Wednesday, February 28, 2018

#NoJusticeNoDeal demands an accountable police contract

Roberto Alfaro from HOMEY who works with youth in the Mission has had it with a police union (POA) agreement that frees the SFPD from most oversight and citizen control. The POA's contract with the city is up for renewal and renegotiation. The #NoJusticeNoDeal coalition, speaking on the steps of City Hall yesterday, wants our elected Board of Supervisors to demand a commitment from the POA to honor the city's values by supporting reforms.

John Crew (l), a retired police reform litigator from the ACLU, has been at this work for three decades. He insists:
We, the citizens of this city, are not getting the modern, professional police department we've shown we're willing to pay for. ... The POA is to policing as the NRA is to gun control.
Anand Subramanian (r) from PolicyLink has plenty of reason to know that the POA has been been led by a small group of bullying officials who disdain the City's values while protecting the department's bad actors. Subramanian led the Blue Ribbon Panel whose findings in 2016 led the Justice Department to list hundreds of improvements needed to bring the department in line with law and best practices. (That was back when we had a Justice Department working for justice ...) Deceased Mayor Ed Lee and our new outsider Police Chief William Scott pledged to make changes. The California Attorney General's office has agreed to pick up the oversight task that Jeff Sessions has dropped.

Father Richard Smith and other clergy brought together by Faith in Action Bay Area and PICO California lent their support. All were at pains to explain that the broad #NoJusticeNoDeal coalition is not hostile to unions in general. They do assert though that the POA abuses labor law to prevent lawful oversight. Further, this coalition supports disciplined police officers who are doing a tough job. But they need to see a contract that helps restore trust between community and cops. The current renegotiation provides a rare opportunity for San Franciscans to demand a better deal.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Middle America’s mothers and grandmothers are coming

Eminent researchers of social movements, Theda Skocpol (Harvard) and Lara Putnam (University of Pittsburgh), are making some bold predictions. There's no scholarly caution here; they really believe they are seeing a democratic (that's with a small "d") inflection point that will profoundly shift the Democratic party in the next few years.

At the current pace, it seems likely that the pop-up leaders and grassroots groups of 2017 will, by 2019, have repopulated the local layer of the Democratic Party in much of the country. National media misperceptions to the contrary, this will not look like a far-left reinvention of Tea Partiers or a continuation of Bernie 2016. It will look like retired librarians rolling their eyes at the present state of affairs, and then taking charge. ...

This change will come smoothly and cooperatively in some places and through conflict and displacement in others. The change will move farthest and fastest outside of the metropolitan cores where local Democratic Party patronage structures still persist. Purple suburbs, mid-size cities, big towns in red regions—these are the unexpected epicenters of the quake underway. The cumulative result will be local Democratic Party leadership across much of America that is slightly more progressive and much more female than it was, although not much more socio-economically diverse.

Everywhere, the renovated party locals will be passionate about procedural democracy: determined to fight gerrymandering, regulate campaign activities and finance, and expand and guarantee voting rights for all. ...

These researchers' argument in Middle America Reboots Democracy is the product of months of interviews with activists newly energized in the wake of Donald Trump's victory in 2016. Much of the research data that underlies these predictions is from the politically volatile state of Pennsylvania which has just seen its Congressional boundaries redrawn by its courts to break up a Republican gerrymander. Putnam and Skocpol found an emerging horde of newly active, largely white, women at or near retirement age, with the skills, resources, and social confidence to replace, or displace or revitalize an atrophied Democratic party. They make the case that these women are already winning local victories and will only win more and become more central to Democratic politics over the next three years. This is a very hopeful prospect; the case seems plausible. Read it all.
For decades, I've been helping local organizations in the communities of color realize that the Democratic Party is porous. If you organize a constituency, the powers-that-be with more cash and historic leadership positions will court you. In California, that actually happens, thanks to diligent work emanating from Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay. These forces give the California Democratic Party, for all its internal struggles, a breadth and comprehensiveness that the Dems would not otherwise have. The Republican Party in California is near dead, likely to be outnumbered by indies by November..

In the rest of the country the question that will arise is whether the rising white suburban women can find a way to coexist with urban Democratic pols who've had party power to themselves in a season of decline. That's not a simple question. The cities have been bastions of leadership of color. These urban Democrats have been and will remain the power base for communities of color within politics unless residential patterns change a lot. And they are the irreducible foundation on which the Democratic Party depends. There's a challenging road ahead, but the highly pragmatic forces emerging in the 'burbs just might be able to walk it, at least for a few seasons.

To be continued ...

What resisters care about

Vice sponsored a poll of the sort of people who make up "the resistance" to try to find out what matters most to us. (I'd qualify in their sample and if you are reading this, you might too.) They sum it up:

Voting is an American value, and one that faces a frontal assault from the most reactionary forces in our country.

First and foremost, we want people to be able to vote, do be able to participate democratically in deciding the future of this country. This means supporting a raft of reforms at state and federal levels in the mechanics of how citizens establish their eligibility: more automatic voter registration, same day registration, and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds when they apply for a driver’s license. All of this should be no-brainers; in our technological environment, the notion that it is hard for states to establish whether individuals live where they claim and are of age is simply laughable.

Other reforms would make voting easier: mail-in ballots, time off for voting on early voting days if people with difficult schedules as in fast food employment need it, and simply more polling places if voting requires such venues. (I have questioned whether mail voting might lower the feeling of participating in a national citizenship ritual which has its own attractions, but we almost certainly are going that way.)

Republicans act as if they know that restricting the vote is a life and death priority for their very unpopular priorities. As conservative pundit David Frum has explained:

The Republican Party has a platform that can’t prevail in democratic competition. ... When highly committed parties strongly believe [in] things that they cannot achieve democratically, they don’t give up on their beliefs — they give up on democracy.

Resisters want to expand voting rights because we believe we are the future. Let's make it so.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Another thought about class

These ladies are far more what the working class in this country looks like than the much discussed notion of "working class" in too much media. They were happy to let me snap their picture as they marched to demand a living wage from Disneyland.

Here's Erik Loomis explaining:

Far too often in our imaginations and in our media, we imagine the working class as a white man, probably with an out of fashion mustache, in a union jacket inside a steel mill. Or some such variation of this.

This has led to the definition of “real workers” and thus “heart of America voters” being the same white guys in Pennsylvania who voted for Trump, as per 10,000 articles since November 2016. This should drive us crazy, but we also need to remember how deep this is in our culture and in our minds.

Take labor history. Even among activists, most labor activism people remember is that of white men. Briefly taking the point that whiteness is fluid out of the equation, it’s almost all white men, in today’s definition of that word: Haymarket, Homestead, Pullman, the IWW, Flint and the CIO. And for that matter, the Hard Hat Riots, which play a way outsized role in liberal memories of labor, considering it was a couple of union locals in a couple of places. But that’s the point–it’s certain types of white men that make up our shared history of the labor movement. ...

The whole post is worth reading. It may be slightly easier to visualize the color-full working class of today in California where political action and relative prosperity have buoyed union activism which is more under siege elsewhere. Or maybe not and I'm just being parochial. Still, this is what the "working class" looks like today!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Which side are you on? Class analysis meets class stance ...

Joan C. Williams has an insight:

"Class consciousness has been replaced by class cluenessless -- and in some cases even by class callousness."

The weakness of White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America is that it has little more to it than that observation. Yes, many people, in all classes, are oblivious, ignorant, rude, and dismissive toward economic and cultural groups that are not our own. We can be (and all are) assholes sometimes. But that's not what class is about.

Williams does have a definition of "class." She includes under the label "white working class" households with incomes above the bottom 30% and under the top 80% with a median income around $75000 currently. So her picture is of a hierarchy (of whites): there are the poor, the working (WWC), and the professional-managerial elite (PME). The one percent on the very top -- who own us all -- go unmentioned. So okay -- but from there the book is simply a catalogue of the insults that the people in the PME throw at the people on next lower level of that hierarchy. It's a good catalogue, but it reduces the salience of class to scab picking, self-excoriating navel gazing to be practiced by properly abashed elites.

This poster, displayed in every feminist women's bookstore of the 1970s, speaks more usefully about class than Williams little screed. [Yes, it is an anachronism, oblivious to current discourse about white supremacy, but it still presents necessary truths.] In this picture, "class analysis" points to the status in the capitalist economic hierarchy that your income and other resources put you and those like you into. Class is not something that describes you alone, not an individual characteristic. Class is collective, both the home cultural turf and the constricting fate of people like you. Above all, class is involuntary. The "system" (and the system's beneficiaries) nail you into your status there.

This perspective points to the poster's conclusion about the meaning of "class analysis" -- to looking around for who is on the same side of the fence(s). The Williams book enjoins members of the PME to be nicer, less judgmental, more understanding of WWC class cultures. The poster enjoins everyone to throw their weight behind eradicating the injuries of class by picking a side. Now at most times and places, most people will tend to choose first to stand with the side that seems to consist of their nearest and dearest.

But observing that class means there are sides implies the possibility of people picking sides that the existing class hierarchy didn't plan for them. We don't (usually) control our position in the class hierarchy, but once we observe that hierarchy, we can choose our "class stance" -- to choose consciously where to throw our weight in the social push and pull for class advantage and more equality. We can decide that our values (and even our less parochial interests) require undoing some of the injuries of class. Some of the time in some circumstances, people up and down the hierarchy can throw in with people whose lifeways are not just like their own.

There are tried and true principles for such struggles. People with more social power (social capital as academicians revealingly call it these days) have to defer to the people with less or they'll just replicate existing hierarchies. That's no help.

There may be circumstances in which class differences create tough chasms between good people, especially when conservatives have exploited class differences to fan culture wars, as in the domain of gun violence.

But there are plenty of aspects of the struggle for a better life in this country in which people who've decided they want to be on the majority side together against the super rich can align themselves. Think preserving public education for all, working for affordable housing, defending workers' rights and workers' unions.

If the sort of people who read this blog don't like class cluelessness, do something useful -- guilt and navel gazing are just self-reinforcing wallowing.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Friday, February 23, 2018

They so want to do the right thing and they know so little

'Tis the day for teachers to speak out. What with the NRA and our inhumanly oblivious simulacrum of a president bleating that teachers ought to carry guns and be taught to use them, many educators have joined their students in talking back for civilization.

Meanwhile, Erudite Partner's latest on what it has been like to teach college ethics throughout the U.S. Forever Wars since 9/11 has hit the internet.

Recently, former CIA director and retired general David Petraeus admitted to Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour that the war on terror’s first battlefield, Afghanistan, has become the locus of a “generational struggle,” one that more than a decade and a half later is not “going to be won in a few years.”

I’ve watched that generational struggle as it developed in the classroom. ...

These days, my students live in a country that has been at war almost since they were born, and yet, as is true with most of their fellow citizens, the fighting could be happening on Mars for all the impact it has on them. ... Most of them haven’t yet realized that, if their government hadn’t spent $5.6 trillion and counting on those very wars, there might have been federal money available to relieve them of the school debt they will carry for decades.

... The good news is that they want to learn. ...

Involuntarly, Parkland students are showing how the next generation might lead. E.P. has offered a chronicle of how the coming generation is growing into taking on the mess adults have made for them.

Friday cat blogging

It's been unusually cold this week in Northern California. Morty found a spot from which to catch a few rays.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

That man with 45 embroidered on his cuff

For months we asked ourselves: what will he do in an emergency?

Now we know. Fortunately, so far, fumbling and bumbling have overwhelmed the instinctive bellicosity. The only disturbances that really get his attention are those that he takes as attacks on himself. Everything else seems inconsequential is his limited consciousness.

I was reminded that, in one of the 2016 debates, Hillary Clinton was asked to say something positive about him. All she could come up with was "his children."

Now his fragility is being showed up by what the media insist on calling children, but I'd call young leaders. Good for them; sad for him.

What winning Democratic campaigns look like in 2018

This past week, Democrats did it again, seeing their candidate win a special election in Kentucky in a state legislative race -- in a district Donald Trump carried 68-32. This was the 37th seat that Democrats have flipped since November 2016.

Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, described succinctly to Greg Sargent what's working for Democrats in these contests. No one factor is enough to get the winners over the top.

Democratic voters are “furious and want an outlet. So they’ll knock on the doors of other Democrats who are also furious. And then Democrats are turning out in huge numbers,” Post says.

“Meanwhile, the candidate is talking to independents about local issues that really matter to their community, disconnected from Washington.” The result has been a “rebalancing,” in which districts that went heavily for Trump in 2016, washing out Dem local candidates, are now seeing quality Dem candidates reassert the Democratic brand.

Grassroots enthusiasm means that volunteers will eagerly swell an organized effort to make sure more nominal Democrats vote.

And candidate quality counts; a standard bearer who knows the district and can engage intelligently with people looking for answers can reach unaffiliated voters. Such candidates are stepping up in droves and often can raise enough money to field a credible campaign.

Looking good, but there's no room for slacking off until the midterms are in the bag.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Can we stop this?

The "Hero's Welcome" editorial cartoon by Canadian artist Pia Guerra.
I'm one of those discouraged adults who reacts to mass shootings, even to school shootings, with a jaded sigh: "nothing will change." Our national devotion to a right to own weapons with which to kill our neighbors is just too entrenched. Let's hear it for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School young people who are out to prove that change is possible.
Erudite Partner teaches college students barely older than these Parkland survivors. I've asked her more than once whether she's afraid of a shooter on campus, even among her students. She says "yes."
There's much commentary on the fact that these survivors are from a generation that grew up after Columbine, that meaningless massacre in 1999 of 13 students, by students, outside Denver. Columbine is considered the archetype of the school shooting. But I ponder ...
  • A friend I worked with told me the story of being escorted out of elementary school by a policeman and rushed past the murdered body of a teacher in the yard. The schools have never been entirely free of the violence around them. This was in Texas in the 1960s. They [preferred pronoun] may never have gotten over it, eventually taking their own life, by handgun.
  • At Columbine, the crux of the horror, on top of the slaughter, was that no one knew that these two white suburban boys from middle class homes had gone over the edge. At Parkland, it seems that most everyone knew, but no one could do anything.
We're never going to be willing as a society to put out enough resources to enable us to heal every troubled teen -- but we sure could keep them from having access to lethal armament.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A campaign to get behind

In the time of the Trump regime, we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. That means building electoral power widely in addition whatever else we're doing to keep hope alive.

So I'm inviting you to aid the campaign of a candidate who is geographically distant from most of us, but who has built her campaign around doing the work of engaging people who have lived at the margins of the system in making the changes they need in their lives. That's (some of) what making a better country will require of us.

Stacey Abrams is running for Governor of Georgia. She's not just some protest candidate. She has served as the Minority Leader in the Georgia General Assembly, fighting against efforts to raise taxes on poor and middle class people while protecting women's access to reproductive health care and increasing support to kinspeople caring for family members. She brings degrees from Spelman College, the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, and Yale Law School to her public service career.

She has always run the sort of grassroots political campaign that so few candidates dare to, telling Rachel Maddow that "If we invest in field, we can close the gap. ... to win a statewide election in Georgia, we have to close a 5 point gap. ... We have voters in Georgia who will vote if we ask. "

Abrams' primary election is May 22. She needs funds to get her volunteers into the field to ask people to vote.

Abrams supporters in the Bay have planned a fundraising event:
You can RSVP by phone (so we know how many to expect) or via the Facebook event page.

Or you can donate to Stacey Abrams today.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Once upon a time, there was a president ...

A Presidents Day meditation
When I was growing up in the 1950's, I thought of George Washington as an icon wearing a three cornered hat who had lived in an unimaginably distant past.

But Abraham Lincoln was a much closer presence. You see, my great-grandmother, my mother's grandmother, attended the 16th president's second inauguration as a teenage girl. (She's somewhere in that crowd; Lincoln is the man reading from a paper in the center. I don't know if there was voice amplification; I think not.) Her father was serving a term as a Western New York Congressman. Both those ancient relatives were long dead by the time I came along, but her grandmother had been a lively presence in my mother's youth. So I was raised by someone for whom the era of the war to subdue secessionist Rebellion and preserve the Union was no more distant than World War II is today. Lincoln was nearly a century dead by the time I came of age, but he was not a wispy ghost from ancient history.

The 1850s, the formative decade just before Lincoln was elected President and the (dis)United States went to war over slavery, was easily as partisan and divided as our time and even more violent. The design of U.S. Constitution made it possible for Reaction, in that era dubbed the Slaveocracy, to impose its will on the more populous and "progressive" Free States. (Still true of course: 180.8 million people are represented today by the 49 senators who caucus with the Democrats; 141.7 million people are represented by the 51 senators who caucus with the Republicans.) The atrocity that was the slave system flowed into posses of slave catchers invading "free" states in search of escapees, massacres of abolitionists in the disputed Kansas/Nebraska territories, and a vicious assault by a South Carolina Congressman on an abolitionist Massachusetts Senator in the Senate chamber. Politics was a rough enterprise.

In 1855, the future President Lincoln, then a former one term Illinois Congressman sidelined for the time being, wrote a letter to his slave-owning Kentucky friend Joshua Speed drenched in the brutality around him. It includes one of his few recorded descriptions of seeing humans in chains. But "miserable" as he was at the sight of shackled slaves, the sight led him back to his concern for upholding the country's Constitution. His empathy was less for the slaves than for the feelings of Northerners up against the Slave Power.

I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continued torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union.

Lincoln did not hesitate to call out the violence he saw the Slave Power doing to his beloved Constitution and Union, exemplified by the act allowing extensiion of slavery to the Nebraska territory.

I look upon that enactment not as a law, but as violence from the beginning. It was conceived in violence, passed in violence, is maintained in violence, and is being executed in violence. I say it was conceived in violence, because the destruction of the Missouri Compromise, under the circumstances, was nothing less than violence. It was passed in violence, because it could not have passed at all but for the votes of many members in violence of the known will of their constituents. It is maintained in violence because the elections since, clearly demand it's repeal, and this demand is openly disregarded.

The Slave Power had trumped representative democracy, though Lincoln would not have used that language as the "representative" and "democracy" had different meanings at the time.

The letter goes on to come close to despair about the country's violent divisions. It had been easy for additional reactionary energies to emerge as a party of northern anti-immigrant nativism and anti-Catholicism, labelled by contemporaries the "Know Nothings." This served the Slave Power well, dividing their opponents.

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." ...

The future president seems to have been a good and moral man, moved by aspirations of empathy as well as by shrewd political calculation, by politics as the "art of the possible."

A little over a decade after emancipation and Lincoln's murder, the abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass summed up what sort of ally Lincoln had been to the Cause at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.

I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.

Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow-countrymen against the Negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery. ... The honest and comprehensive statesman, clearly discerning the needs of his country, and earnestly endeavoring to do his whole duty, though covered and blistered with reproaches, may safely leave his course to the silent judgment of time. ...

Political geniuses who combine empathy, subtlety, courage, and moral decency obviously are the rarest of leaders. On this Presidents Day, when we are stuck with a petulant infantile narcissist in the White House, it seems right to remember that, once upon a time, there was a president ...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Which side are you on? Some forgiveness, some amnesia ...

“If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition.” --Bernice Johnson Reagan
Under the Trump regime/Republican regime, spaces for people to fight democratically for a better day are threatened. I have spelled out elements of this all too often here, including through voter suppression, increasing disdain for the rule of law, and brutish warmongering. We are being corrupted in our best impulses, taught and forced to be ungenerous, selfish, and unkind. This assault on the nation's moral potentialities is so immediate, it outweighs for me, for now, the many historic imperfections and even crimes of the US state. I'm doing politics just for room to keep hope alive; we'll go for what we need and want when there is a little more room. The immediate need to fight changes the terrain.

When under attack, people fighting back look for allies, even unlikely ones. Preserving the space to fight another day demands the widest possible variety of allies and other irritants to the powerful. We don't know what is going to help, so we need to be open to many strands of resistance.

So, in this moment of deadly threat, I've been doing my best to listen to and read the thoughts of people who I ordinarily avoid or ignore. Think especially of #NeverTrumpers like the pretentious Canadian neoconservative David Frum, recovering bully boy Max Boot, former Breibart spokesman Kurt Bardella, legal eagle Benjamin Wittes and foreign policy hawk Kori Schake. Ana Marie Cox's podcast, With Friends Like These specializes in talking with dissident Republican political hacks, a curious breed. These voices range through the center-right, to fans of U.S. empire, to even previously hard right, but they agree that Trump must go if normal political decency if to return.

The most prolific of these rightwing voices has been Jennifer Rubin who writes the Washington Post's Right Turn blog. She churns out a volume of anti-Trump/anti-GOPer argumentation and indignation unrivaled in the mainstream media. She's a brutally effective writer. So I was interested to hear her discuss with center-left political scientist Yasha Mounk what the parameters of a momentary left-right alliance might be. She's got a lot to say (my transcription from audio) and I found it both challenging and unsettling:
The first thing we have to do is stop the historical archeology ... If the first reaction of people on the left is, "we would not have had George W Bush if it had not been for Jennifer Rubin"... well the conversation ends. We are where we are. ...We are both in trouble, the boat is leaking, it has a big hole and if you are going to pick a fight with me, we are going to sink together. It's a recognition that however we got here, we have a mutual problem.

The second is the willingness and ability to prioritize ... the highest issue right now is the survival of a rule based republic. Unless we baby-proof, we Trump-proof, the democracy, nobody is going get any of that stuff [that are our policy preferences.] ... We're not going to get back to that stuff unless we can pitch in, so I think some forgiveness, some amnesia ...I think [we need] a sense that we are not going to hassle each other about the second order issues ...

The third is an ability to recognize that a lot of the preconceptions about the other side were wrong ... in fact the left has played by the constitutional rules to a much greater extent than the right has, at least of late. ... I now see the people on that side [she means the center-left] are aligned with me on some of these very fundamental issues: the independence of the courts, the free press, the value of an apolitical civil service, the value of truth, that there really are people on the other side who believe that.

Once you do that, a lot of the other difficulties melt away. ... it is an understanding of what we share; it is a mutual understanding that we really are in a crisis situation, a crisis of western democracy.
In Rubin's view, she is coming a long way toward those of us on the progressive end of things -- and it is fair to say she has (for an archeological peak at how awfully she once used her talent, try this -- and then let it go if you can.)

I'm enough of an historian to know that the Nazis won elections in 1930s Germany without ever becoming a majority; their opponents -- left, center-left, and center-right -- couldn't coalesce to stop them and were swept away. I don't want to replicate that grizzly error because of a political purity fetish. But on the other hand, don't I have some red lines beyond which I can't make common cause? What are those lines? After hard thinking, I've come up with two:
  • We both have to be able to say that white supremacy, white entitlement, Eurocentric racism has been a defining reality throughout the history of this country. We needn't agree on exactly how that works, and what we must do about it, but we have to allow the premise and live from there.
  • We have to be able to say that an unregulated free market is a prescription for individual and planetary death. Again, we don't have to agree on exactly what curbs are needed, but we both have to acknowledge some are.
These two items leave out vital elements of my politics: in particular, I think women are full human beings and wars are pretty much always wrong. But at least right now, those aren't my first order bottom lines. Maybe they should be.

Do you know what your red lines are for cooperation with allies? I found this a question worth pondering.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

San Francisco scenes: a sign of spring

'Tis the season: house painters are out touching up what even a mild winter has weathered.

Sometime it's a small bevy of workers doing a makeover.

Sometimes there's an individual looking a bit contemplative ...

Many are friendly to the passerby with the camera.

Others never know I came by.

All encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, February 16, 2018


I'm heartily sick of being sick. I cough a little and have no strength. Kaiser says "pneumonia". Been here before, done that, ready to be over it.

But I learned something while trawling through Google Images for a suitable illustration for my present condition: about a third of what search returns for "pneumonia cartoon" are pictures of an invalid Hillary Clinton. It is a reminder not to underestimate the staying power of a wacky right-wing lie.

Friday cat blogging

Morty seems to think the Winter Olympics were invented for his pleasure. Sometimes he moves closer to sniff the screen, trying to identify the strange critters who fly by. He does not usually pay any attention to TV, but skiers and skaters pull him in.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

How Luther unleashed unforeseen contradictions

Last year, during the 500th year after the Augustinian friar Martin Luther posted his controversial views on the church door in Wittenberg (if this bit of historical trivia actually happened, which is contested), I thought I ought to read something about Reformation history. Somehow I hit on Brad S. Gregory's Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts That Continue to Shape Our World. Though this book was not perhaps what I had had in mind, I'm glad I happened on it.

Gregory is a much honored academic, teaching Early Modern (European?) history at Notre Dame University. He has a clear conclusion about the Reformation events this book sets forth:

The Reformation is a paradox: a religious revolution that let to the secularization of society.

His narrative of the theological currents in Lutheranism and Calvinism, of radical Protestantisms of slightly later vintage like Anabaptism, and of the Catholic counter-reformation seemed clear enough to me, though I am not that well read in this period.

But what was really interesting was where this book comes from and where it proved to be going. At the very outset, I was stunned by Gregory's concern to restate the basic elements of Christian belief. A moment's thought suggested that of course this was necessary. I'm sure his students, even at Notre Dame, come to this history with little concept of the doctrines of creation, sin, incarnation, atonement, and Church that were the framework of daily medieval life (and still undergird the more complex modern Christian formations). I expect Gregory knows his audience. And the need to draw this out points to his central thesis:

The Reformation had the long-term impact of gradually and unintentionally transforming Europe from a world permeated by Christianity to one in which religion would be separate from public life, becoming instead a matter of individual preference.

... ... The first unintended consequence of the Reformation itself was the proliferation of so many rival versions of Protestantism. ...

A second major unintended consequence of the Reformation era came out of the relationship between magisterial Protestantism [established churches] and Catholicism. ... From the Catholic perspective, heresy was institutionalized in multiple forms. As far as the Protestants were concerned, the Antichrist got a major second wind. The Reformation did not overcome or abolish Roman Catholicism; rather, it actually contributed directly if unintentionally to rejuvenating the Roman Church.

In his telling, what he calls the "wars-of-more-than-religion," particularly the Thirty Years War fought across what is now Germany and Austria and the English Civil War, failed to resolve theological differences between various professing Christians, but were too devastatingly destructive to continue. Meanwhile, the enterprising Dutch rebelled against Catholic Spanish overlords and made a virtue of tolerant religious pluralism suggesting another way. In Gregory's view the Dutch replaced the idea of the good life with the "goods" life, and this capitalist invention satisfied a growing number of people and their rulers. Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in launching the new United States invented "separation of church and state."

Religion, regardless of its content, could be tolerated so long as all who benefited from individual religious freedom agreed on its newly limited scope and agreed as well to obey the political authorities who extended and protected that freedom. Making religion a personal choice and restricting its scope made religious freedom as well as religious toleration possible. It also led to separating out many other areas of life from religion. ...

... for you and for everyone else, religion is not about how political authority is exercised or how the economy is regulated or what laws get made and enforced.

He wants his readers to see this as a mixed blessing. Can we, for example, respond to the cancerous capitalist economic growth imperative which drives climate change when individual freedom is enshrined as our highest good? Good question, but not one to which Gregory claims there is a simple answer. He concludes:

We find ourselves in our present situation of hyperpluralism because individualism and liberalism have succeeded so well, beginning with an individual freedom that has proven simultaneously to be freedom from religion. You can believe whatever you want and live however you wish within the laws of the state, and so can everyone else. That's both a great blessing and a big problem. ...

As a woman and a lesbian, I tend to come down heavily on the side of needing to allow all flowers to bloom in seeking Truth, whatever that might be. I'd be erased in a less plural society. But Gregory's challenge is bracing and healthy to anyone seeking to envision both good life and good society.

As I read this volume, I kept thinking that, if Dorothy Day had decided to frame broadly how she thought about the Protestant Reformation, I think she might have come up with a view not far from that put forward by Professor Gregory. She did not, that I know of, give the Reformation such thought. But as she seemed to understand this history, Luther, Calvin, et al., had strayed from a flawed but probably retrievable Mother Church; their revolt broke European Christendom, which was already in trouble, and led to ever more splintering into smaller and smaller sects among the Christian faithful. This was properly a source of great sadness. She didn't condemn, but she disapproved and hoped some of those led astray would get over their heresies (as some people in her orbit occasionally did).

As I knew her, Dorothy simply chose to be a loyal, orthodox, daughter of a Church formed by opposition to Protestant challenges, who nonetheless felt no intellectual contradiction in framing for herself a boldly idiosyncratic way of living her piety. She didn't think down-the-line coherence was required of her intellectual furniture -- and she was often open to not demanding greater consistency in others.

Such graceful inconsistency alongside consistency is one way to live with the contradictions Professor Gregory raises -- perhaps the best way.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Unhappy choice

Barring an act of God, one of these two characters will be Governor of California next year.

Gavin Newsom is an empty suit, sometimes filled with "bright new ideas" that usually benefit the sort of people who fund his campaigns. He makes nice noises, but there's no there there. San Franciscans have seen this act.

Antonio Villaraigosa apparently is running to Gavin's right. The former Los Angeles mayor has been endorsed by the police unions because he has supported high levels of incarceration and opposes reform of the cash bail system that keeps low level offenders locked up before trial.

They are both Democrats. This is California, after all.

Gavin leads in the polls. This will almost certainly go two rounds as these two will come out "top two" in June and get to bang away at each other some more until November.

This might be the political ad of the year

Sol Flores is a longshot to win the primary in her contest. But she is sure showing the way for women who dare go there.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Stickers from the 'hood

In the Mission, formerly barren poles of all sorts -- light, parking signs, bus signs -- rapidly sport stickers.
Some are hostile.

Some seem improbable.

Some are art, of a sort.

And some are hardy perennials.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Wishful recycling is a real problem

... and apparently that's exactly what San Francisco's much vaunted 80 percent landfill waste diversion rate actually encourages. This Grist video explains why much of our "recycling" is problematic.
I did not know this. Since encountering it, I've been trying to be a more discriminating recycler. Our current practice of just throwing anything that might, maybe, be recyclable in the blue bin is a self-indulgence that won't fly as poor countries become able to be more choosy about what effluvia they'll accept from the rich.

On the other hand, what's good about easy civic recycling is that it identifies our waste as a social reality, a byproduct of the entire shape of our collective lives. The detritus of our lives can ultimately only be dealt with collectively. Environmental degradation and climate change are byproducts of how we organize our capitalist society; how we live together (uncomfortably) is choking the planetary ecosystem. Individual actions are good reminders that there is a problem, but we aren't going to solve our ills by some of us carrying refillable water bottles.

This, of course, is why Republicans instinctively hate the steps necessary to reduce carbon pollution. There aren't any individual solutions; none of us in rich countries are innocent and the planet doesn't care about our injured feelings of virtue. Solutions must be society-wide and that will constrict some choices for some people, including all of us here in the rich USofA.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Of naval accidents

Ongoing coverage of the U.S. Navy's plans to hold officers accountable for a two collisions last year in the far Pacific Ocean -- destroyers were rammed by merchant ships -- has been fascinating me. Seventeen sailors died in these accidents.
On Jan. 16, the U.S. Navy announced that it has charged five officers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with negligent homicide, hazarding a vessel, and dereliction of duty in the deaths of 17 sailors who died as a result of the collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain with commercial ships in 2017. A chief petty officer from the USS John S. McCain has also been charged with dereliction of duty. 
Commentators have chewed over whether Navy procedures accord the charged officers a fair and transparent hearing; in the last few decades, such hearings have led to acquittals, possibly to some extent due to improper charging. Some Navy vets think the accidents were the end result of a watch system that allows only short sleep breaks and generally an under-manned fleet.

The aircraft carrier Wasp limped home after the accident with the bow torn off. Source.
Why has all this so caught my attention? Because an uncle of mine, Captain Burnham C. McCaffree, was the commander of the aircraft carrier Wasp in 1952 when the huge ship ran over the destroyer Hobson. The accident has been called the Navy's "worst peacetime disaster."
On the night of April 26, 1952 the Wasp launched a training flight of planes at about 8 PM (2000 hours in military time). As the Wasp was preparing to retrieve its aircraft, her commanding officer, Captain Burnham McCaffree planned to turn the ship into the wind to a course of 250 to 260. On the Hobson, the officer of the deck, Lt. William Hoefer, was planning accordingly. The ships were steaming at 24 knots and the Hobson was 3000 yards off the Wasp's starboard quarter (on the right side and behind the Wasp). The Hobson's captain, 32 year old Lt. Commander William Tierney, was new to sea duty.

... Young Captain Tierney had recently received a communication from fleet headquarters that recommended executing rapid turning maneuvers to maximize efficiency. One simple way to accomplish this would have been for each destroyer to slow down and switch positions behind the maneuvering carrier. Tierney instead chose to execute a Williamson turn, also known as the lifeguard turn. ... to change stations behind an aircraft carrier, the turn called for the Hobson to cross IN FRONT OF the Wasp, with tragic results. Tierney got into a heated argument with Lt. Hoefer, the officer of the deck, who thought that a fancy turn in front of the carrier would be dangerous. Eyewitness accounts have [it that] Lt. Hoefer stormed off the bridge in anger. As he did so, he instinctively turned down the radio receiver volume.

... The Hobson crossed directly in front of the 34,000 ton Wasp and was sliced in two. 176 sailors perished in short order and only 61 survived. On the bridge, 11 out of 13 survived. Young Captain Tierney either fell or jumped off the bridge into the water. He couldn't swim and perished.
Lt. Hoefer told a court of inquiry convened under three admirals the next month that he had shouted: "Stand by for collision."

My uncle Mac explained the accident as he understood it, pointing to radar failure on the carrier.
Capt. McCaffree, an Annapolis graduate, was asked who had control of the Wasp at the time of the collision and the skipper replied: "I did."
All this took place when I was a small child. My mother recalled going to New Jersey to accompany her sister, Uncle Mac's wife, to the hearing. Although the sitting admirals decided that the disaster was the destroyer commander's fault, understandably the accident stalled out the Captain's naval career. He went on to command the Jacksonville Naval Air Station for awhile and retired in Florida. I remember him as a stiff, dour man, not much like this smiling photo from an earlier time. His son who carries the same name went on to a successful naval career, ending up a rear admiral.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Redistricting as 8th grade math exercise

I'm not the only person in my family who is interested in the mysteries of gerrymandering. My cousin Jon Kimmel teaches 8th grade math at Westtown School in the Philadelphia suburbs. The area is ground zero for a legal fight over a Republican Congressional district map which the state Supreme Court has ruled is “clearly, plainly, and palpably” in violation of Pennsylvania's state constitution. The GOPer map achieved its goal:

In 2012, Democrats won 51 percent of the statewide popular U.S. House vote but only 5 out of 18 House seats.

But that's not what Kimmel put in front of his students. Instead, when they saw the odd shapes of Congressional districts in their area, they were curious how they came to be drawn that way. Here's what came next from an article in the Daily Local.

Kimmel’s eighth-grade math students ... had been studying the Census and how it relates to redistricting and, in some modern cases, the unconstitutional process of gerrymandering.

“My students, getting their first taste (of the subject), were amazed at the audacity, flabbergasted at what this meant about democracy, and more than a little amused at the stupidity of adults,” Kimmel wrote in an essay recently.

Someone wondered whether the class itself could do as well, or even better. ... In a little over two weeks of class time, indeed, the group of eighth graders did do a better job than the Legislature, he said. ... “The students learned how their mathematical skills, a sense of fair play, and some common sense could point the way to solving some of the problems we as a society face,” he added.

The students agreed.

“I had a lot of fun doing this,” said Alex McVickar, a West Vincent resident in the first year at Westtown. “I think we all collectively learned that it isn’t too hard to redistrict a single state. It may take some time, but the districts don’t need to be as preposterous as they are now. Also, I personally never realized how much math is involved in politics.”

The students drew eight different Pennsylvania maps using criteria including compactness and, apparently, their own sense of what was just.

“In fewer than 10 43-minute classes, my students created eight different redistricting maps. They are not perfect. We concluded, in fact, that there is no mathematically perfect way to do this, but there are ways that seem reasonable and ones that do not. And, pretty much anyone could tell the difference when looking at the maps from across a large room. The current CD map plainly does not pass that test,” he said.

“If my eighth graders can draft congressional district maps that are very representative and compact, why can’t the Pennsylvania Legislature?” he wondered. “And if the state Legislature cannot figure out how to represent its citizens, I know some great 14-year-olds who already have.”

I was pretty much a failure at 8th grade math. But I might have been able to learn from this guy.

The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that it is afraid that trying to restrict partisan gerrymanders will drag it into decision making that requires higher math and statistics. Maybe the judges need to meet these kids.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Olympics and peace on the Korean pennisula

As the PyeongChang Winter Olympics begin, my friend Christine Ahn keeps on doing what she has been doing for years: traveling tirelessly to promote reconciliation between the two Koreas and urging restraint on their bellicose backers -- most notably her own United States. In 2015, she was a leader of a women's walk across the so-called "demilitarized zone" which is the border between these two states cut apart by post-World War II imperial jockeying. Today she is on tour, currently in Albany, NY, talking to whoever will listen about the possibilities for peace. This is how a peace movement is built, through a combination of dramatic citizen actions and patient education to preempt the war machine.

Here are some excerpts from Christine's oped column in the Albany Times Union:

Whether called the "bloody nose" strategy or "preventive war," a hawkish cabal in the White House are advocating for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. They believe they can deal a targeted blow to Pyongyang's nuclear facilities before a North Korean nuclear missile can reach the United States. ...

Like with past U.S. "precision" strikes, this is pure fantasy. Vietnam. Afghanistan. Iraq. North Korea is different. It has an arsenal of at least 20 nuclear weapons.

But North Korea is not suicidal. The former chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Dennis Blair, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea is "only an imminent threat if we make it an imminent threat. We've been talking these guys up a lot more than they deserve."

Yet, hawks in the White House are gunning for a new Korean War, even though we know for a fact that in the opening days of a conventional military conflict, at least 300,000 people would be killed, according to the Congressional Research Service. If nuclear weapons are used, 25 million people would be impacted. The Pentagon estimates any military action to secure North Korean nuclear sites would require a ground invasion, which would require hundreds of thousands of troops.

But as war plans are being drawn in Washington, North Korea and South Korea are sitting down to talk. ...

The U.S. president and his generals are dangerous men, in danger of believing their own feverish fantasies of perfect victories over evil. We've seen far more well balanced leaders launch themselves and us on this sort of perilous adventure. But this time, there is an isolated state with nukes that fears for its very existence.

North Korea seems to be a pretty awful place for North Koreans. After seven decades of separation, the two Koreas have become quite different societies with different values, despite sharing a history and language. Previous Korean-to-Korean peace efforts have brought no breakthroughs.

There have been various attempts in U.S. media to convey what a U.S. "bloody nose" strike on North Korea might look like. North Korea has ample capacity to strike back; most of the victims would be Korean or perhaps Japanese and their deaths would be on us.

The moral truth remains: history and any survivors will not look kindly on any state that starts a nuclear war, as any war-like move by the United States might well do. Is this where we are going? Thanks Christine for trying to stop it.

Friday cat blogging

This neighborhood guardian is not going to let anyone get by unobserved.

Meanwhile, this one catches a few rays.

Both encountered while Walking San Francisco.