Monday, April 30, 2018

What happened to Stevie Juarez in Gilroy?

Over the weekend we attended the lovely wedding of two young friends in a family backyard in the southern Salinas Valley. On the way home, we stopped for gas in Gilroy -- and drove by this little community demonstration.
Stevie Juarez, 42, was well-known and well-liked in his East Gilroy neighborhood, a father, a son, and a football playing friend. On February 25, Gilroy cops, looking for a suspicious person, came upon Juarez lying on the ground. According to the Gilroy Dispatch:

Juarez died shortly after police responded to a 911 call on Feb. 25 reporting a suspicious person in a residential yard on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street.

When Juarez saw the responding officers, he fled on foot, over fences and onto rooftops of other homes, according to police. When officers caught up to him lying on the ground in front of a home, they tried to arrest him but Juarez allegedly struggled against them. Police said they used a variety of force techniques to subdue him, including a Taser and a carotid restraint. During the struggle, Juarez fell into medical distress and was transported to San Jose Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

As of April 26, police are "still investigating" how Jaurez died in custody. Officials say officers acted "lawfully" and "appropriately" but family and friends naturally expect to be told more. The Gilroy cops have insinuated that Jaurez may have been involved with meth and pointed out that he had a jail record. Community members think this is a smokescreen thrown up after an unjustified killing.

“(The police) will do everything they can to make him this person who deserved to be executed by police,” said Laurie Valdez, whose husband was shot and killed by San Jose State University police in 2014. “You remember who he was. Make that the narrative.”

The local paper certainly worries that local history shows there is more to be investigated than authorities have let on.

For local activists and the survivors of Steven Juarez, a chief source of danger in some Gilroy neighborhoods is that entity that is supposed to keep them safe—the Gilroy Police Department.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Archbishop Quinn leaves a message

The job of Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco was not easy back in the days when our city was becoming an epicenter of gay demands for full civil rights. While crossdressing men insisted on flouncing around in nuns' habits, the Church labeled officially homosexuality "intrinsically disordered." Then those homosexuals, including some wearing clerical collars, started dropping from a "gay plague" -- HIV/AIDS. A formerly well-mannered, respectable, and devout Catholic city was become an anarchic center of insurgent cultures.

As far as this detached non-Catholic lesbian could tell, Archbishop John R. Quinn (serving 1977-1995) navigated this toxic mix as gracefully as any Catholic bishop in the U.S. His pastoral response to AIDS included allowing the inclusive ministry of Most Holy Redeemer Parish in the Castro District and supporting Coming Home Hospice where so many gay men went to die.

Moreover, the Archbishop was well attuned to the explosive wars in Central America whose refugees and partisans were so much a part of the city. When members of the right wing military murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero in March 1980, Quinn called the assassinated prelate "a voice for the poor and the oppressed." He attended his funeral in San Salvador, a massive popular gathering which was broken up by military gunfire; Quinn reported vividly on huddling helpless within the terrified crowd that hid in the cathedral building.

After his retirement (he lived on until 2017), Quinn turned to studying and writing Church history. His last work, Revered and Reviled: A Re-Examination of Vatican Council I, eventually became available through our public library, so I took a look.

I'm well read in European history, but I don't really have the necessary background knowledge to evaluate the accuracy of what Quinn offers here as historical narrative. In his telling, Vatican I, the mid-19th century Church council, is principally remembered for asserting the dogma of papal infallibility. He describes the drive to establish the idea as a consequence of the upheavals of the French Revolution in the context of Europe fragmenting into nation states which reduced the temporal power of the papacy. He brings forward the arguments of the minority of bishops who were opposed, pointing out how a monarchical/imperial papacy played poorly in those states which were democratizing. And he insists that subsequent propagandists of papal infallibility treat the resulting proclamation as a much broader assertion of papal power than the council actually authorized.

Ecclesiastical politics are as labyrinthine, sometimes ruthless, and often as fascinating as any other. Quinn lived long enough to see the current modest and pastoral pope in office -- the book seems almost a parting gift to today's incumbent. Quinn writes

My aim in writing this book has been to show that Vatican I is not an obstacle to the path of synodality so emphatically embraced by Pope Francis, nor does Vatican I proclaim a sovereign and absolute primacy outside of and above the bishops with a highly centralized governing of all church life. ... History plainly shows that the petrine mystery has taken different forms at different periods in history. ... the dogmatic definitions of Vatican Council I do not foreclose the collegial exercise of the primacy as more fully elaborated in Vatican Council II. ...

... And so, the Church of the twenty-first century, as it embraces and learns from Vatican I, could greatly profit from [Cardinal John Henry] Newman's penetrating insight:

"One cause of corruption in religion is the refusal to follow the source of doctrine as it moves on, and an obstinacy in the notions of the past."

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Saturday scenes and scenery: auto hood ornaments

While Walking San Francisco, I'm always on the lookout for interesting hood ornaments.

They are not as common as they once were. Perhaps that had something to do with my anarchist friend who years ago made a sport of breaking off those Mercedes markers. The MG one looks tougher.

The truly old ones aren't gaudy.

This one on a Hudson (ca 1954) conveys solidity.

On the other hand, Chief Pontiac and the Plymouth bird are kind of weird. Once upon a time, cars were far more magical. Soon, if the driverless future ever arrives, they'll just be mechanical conveniences, like washing machines. Bye, bye romance. Good riddance I say.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Teachers won't to take it anymore ...

Ever since the Great Recession began in 2008, states have been responding to shrunken tax revenues by cutting funds for schools. Mostly that means holding down or cutting teacher salaries and benefits.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Most states cut school funding after the recession hit, and it took years for states to restore their funding to pre-recession levels. In 2015, the latest year for which comprehensive spending data are available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008.

... In 19 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period, adding to the damage from state funding cuts. In states where local funding rose, those increases usually did not make up for cuts in state support.

In West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and now Arizona and Colorado, teachers have had enough of pay freezes and increasing payments for health insurance. They want respect and to be compensated for the undeniable value of their work.

Most of us agree with them according to an NPR/Ipsos poll.

Just 1 in 4 Americans believe teachers in this country are paid fairly. Nearly two-thirds approve of national teachers' unions, and three-quarters agree teachers have the right to strike. That last figure includes two-thirds of Republicans, three-quarters of independents and nearly 9 in 10 Democrats.

... the 63 percent approval rating of "national teachers' unions" among the general public was 21 points higher than the approval expressed for "the U.S. Department of Education leadership."

That difference was driven by Democrats, 80 percent of whom approved of the unions, while just 37 percent supported the Department of Ed. Among Republicans, 55 percent expressed support for unions and 54 percent supported the Education Department.

Until it breaks through, you never know where insurgent energy for justice will come from, but it is often contagious once it breaks through.

Friday cat blogging

Ordinarily while Walking San Francisco, any cats I meet are behind windows. But very occasionally, I see a cat just going about its business.

This Siamese was intent on wherever it was going. There aren't many neighborhoods car-free enough for outdoor cats, but this west side area was quiet.

It did deign to notice the human with a camera when I got a bit ahead of it. Correctly deciding I presented no threat, we parted ways at the end of a block.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A ghost unmasked and disempowered

The arrest of the East Area rapist who preyed upon women in the Sacramento area and parts south in the 1970s and early '80s plunges me into regretful memories.

A woman who I can call a significant acquaintance was one of his victims. She might have become a friend, but the trauma impelled her to flee the state. The crime to some extent derailed her life plans. She's now deceased, I think.

For years, atrocious crimes connected to this mysterious figure continued, and the authorities couldn't seem to do anything. He haunted women's bad dreams.

And now law enforcement has seized him, based on DNA evidence, probably available because of a 2004 state mandate we voted into law. One of the backers of that initiative is quoted at the arrest press conference:

“To the victims, sleep better tonight, he isn’t coming through the window ...”

I know just enough to know that was my friend's enduring nightmare ...

Assuming this nasty old man is the right guy, I'm grateful they finally got him.

And since the jurisdiction is Sacramento, one of the rare counties where this still happens, the local prosecutor will probably seek the death penalty. More killing won't help. Just lock him away!
To feel something of the particular horror this criminal inspired, read Michelle McNamara at the New Yorker.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Yet another test of what kind of country this is

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether to uphold President Trump's Muslim Ban 3.0. Though somewhat more carefully drawn than previous versions, this executive order essentially blocks entry into the United States by most people from the Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The government says they are acting to keep out people who threaten our security. But Trump hasn't been shy about saying that he'd really like "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Just before issuing this version of the ban, he tweeted that the restrictions "should be far larger, tougher and more specific - but stupidly that would not be politically correct!"

It remains to be seen whether this Court wants to make the country party to ugly religious bigotry by affirming Trump's ban.

Meanwhile Muslims in this country live within a climate of increasing threat. The Council on American-Islamic Relation's annual civil rights report documented

a 17 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents nationwide in 2017 over 2016. This was accompanied by a 15 percent increase in hate crimes targeting American Muslims, including children, youth, and families, over the same period.

Of particular alarm is the fact that federal government agencies instigated 35 percent of all anti-Muslim bias incidents recorded in 2017. This represents an almost unprecedented level of government hostility toward a religious minority within the United States, and is counter to the American value of religious freedom.

What's it like for US Muslims these days? Too much of this:
  • Virginia: “It just feels like a nightmare. Just a bad dream and we’re gonna wake up from it,” said an American Muslim couple whose apartment was broken into and vandalized while they were out of state visiting family. They received a call about the break-in and returned home to find “f*** Muslims” written on the wall, their Quran torn to shreds, and all their valuables gone."
  • California: Two American Muslims who were cousins were held at gunpoint by an automotive body repair shop employee. The employee made several derogatory comments, including “go back to Afghanistan,” “all you [people] are alike,” and “get out of our country.” He then pulled out a gun and accosted the two American Muslim customers.
  • Michigan: An American Muslim family had their children taken by Child Protective Services. They requested that the children be placed in an American Muslim family’s home but were told that none were available. The children were instead placed with a strictly practicing Christian family. The American Muslim family was threatened with complete separation from their children if they refused to consent to their children attending church services with the foster family.
  • Ohio:The U.S. government denied a Muslim man, married to an American Muslim U.S. citizen, an immigrant visa for nine years. During the course of their unusually delayed application process, the couple had four children together and the Muslim applicant missed an opportunity to accept a full scholarship to earn his doctoral degree in psychology at an American university. This caused extreme hardship to his family. The U.S. Consulate refused to provide the couple with any reason for the visa delay, other than to state that it was in “administrative processing.” CAIR Ohio’s Columbus chapter filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Consequently, the Consulate was compelled to grant the man his immigrant visa. In December 2017, he was able to join his wife and children in the U.S. after a nine-year wait.
  • Oregon: Vandals spray painted “ISIS” in large red letters on the walls of the Abu Bakar Islamic Center in Portland. New Jersey: The Islamic Center of Passaic County received a spate of eight phone calls containing death threats over the course of 24 hours. The callers used profane language and stated they would kill the attendees and “burn [the] mosque down.”
Globalization, an interconnected world where cultures and faiths and social structures meet and sometimes collide, is scary. It's also here, a fact. Freedom of (and freedom from) religion is one of the pillars that can made a global society work. No wall can roll back the global reality. In its better moments, this country has held up religious freedom as a core principle. Is that true today?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

We can house some homeless students ... why not?

Yesterday afternoon as I got out of my car across from Buena Vista/Horace Mann School, a small, slightly diffident, white woman approached me.

"Do you live at this house?" she asked.

"Yes, I do. Is everything okay?"

"Do you know they are planning to put homeless families in this school?" she continued.

"Why yes -- I think it is a great idea," says I. And with that we were off on a long, utterly civil discussion. Suffice to say, she feels the school is failing her child who has special needs and, she explained, doesn't get the program she needs. She believes the school is failing all its children. She doesn't think it should take on one more thing.

I don't really know whether it's true the school fails many kids. I am confident that the teachers over there are doing their best; few people teach in inner city schools except from devotion to the kids. I also am pretty dubious that any of us have good measures of educational success, since I think testing kids all the time only makes it harder to help them learn.

And I do like the idea of using school facilities to house a few of the many school families who have no stable place to live in our crazy, inflated housing environment. According to the school, there are some 60 such kids among their students. There are thousands of students in unstable living situations in the city. We should use the facilities the city already has to reduce some tiny fraction of this crisis situation -- or so I think. It's fine to demand that it be done thoughtfully and carefully, but we don't want the novelty of the idea to overwhelm its promise.

So it was nice to see that three Buena Vista/Horace Mann School parents have explained why they want this to happen in an oped in the Chronicle. Here's how they explain their support:
Buena Vista school can meet its homeless students’ needs now
 Principal Richard Zapien, walks the floor of the gymnasium, where the shelter would be located at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 school in San Francisco, Calif
We are two moms and a dad trying to raise kids in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Every day we see the effect this is having on families at all income levels at our children’s school — and how devastating it is to our most low-income families.

Last month, one of us saw a mother scolding her two kids not to run in the playground after school. When we asked why, she shared that she didn’t want them to get dirty because they are living in their car and can’t bathe or easily wash clothes. It was heartbreaking to hear.

One of us knows a mom of three who stayed in an abusive relationship because she felt she had nowhere else to go — she and her kids lived with him. At one point, her third-grader started to kick the walls of his classroom. It pains us to think of the trauma that this child was going through. ...
Go read what these parents have to say.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Why are the National Parks so white?

This sharp short video answers that question succinctly -- and includes a multitude of old pictures from America's Best Idea (if you weren't a native person who was dispossessed in order to create them.)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Letter to some editors

Dear Washington Post,

Why so mealy-mouthed? The nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency has once again raised awareness of the torture practices the George W. Bush regime instigated, allowed, and covered for in the wars of the '00s. Nobody disputes that Haspel ran one of the "black sites" where the CIA literally taught itself how to torture, using the body of Abu Zubaydah. Nobody disputes that she dispatched the order to destroy video tapes of waterboarding, though the CIA contends she was just following orders (no shit, that's how this action is discussed.)

But over and over, the Washington Post writes around what all the world calls by its name: torture. Some samples:

  • "techniques often referred to as torture"
  • "[Senator Rand] Paul also intends to vote no because of her role in harsh interrogations during the Bush administration."

The debate is over. The torture apologists lost. The US tortured and has been rightly condemned around the world. Even that careful Senator Diane Feinstein calls what we were doing "torture."

Call it what is was. Get real with your "Democracy Dies in Darkness" stuff. Democracy dies when truth is obscured by phony polite obfuscations.

Yours sincerely,

A concerned citizen

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday scenes and scenery: E.P. is learning to ride

We spent a lovely afternoon in Pacifica yesterday; she worked at her new avocation. I watched and enjoyed the sun. Juniper seemed to enjoy being curried and brushed.

Both rider and horse warmed up in the dirt ring.

E.P.'s oh-so-encouraging teacher Claire watches her trot. I get joy from seeing E.P. get joy from her new relationship with the horse.

Friday, April 20, 2018

From the perspective of 1968, they asked "now what?"

My dear friend Max Elbaum's thoughtful and exhaustive chronicle of how some of the 1960's best and brightest US leftist radicals charged off down a Leninist party-building rabbit hole for a couple of decades -- Revolution in the Air with a new foreword by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter -- has come out in paperback. This history of well-intended struggle and idealism losing touch with the realities of its own society is well worth preserving; Max's comprehensive account of the New Communist Movement ensures that experience won't be entirely inaccessible to new generations of activists.

The social and student movements of the 1960s in this country and throughout the world, the civil rights and Black freedom struggles, mushrooming resistance to the imperial US war in Vietnam, and more, all reached a zenith in 1968 -- and that explosion of energy left a lot of young people wondering where to go from here. Max's subject (of which he was a leader) is the direction a devoted subset of those young people came up with.

... a portion of those who participated developed a long term commitment to political activism. Many of them -- seeing how intransigent "the establishment" was in resisting racial equality and defending imperial prerogatives -- decided that "the system" could not be reformed. ... Within the Third World Marxist ranks, a determined contingent set out to build tight-knit cadre organizations. ... Deciding that the real problem was that the Communist Party USA wasn't Leninist enough, they set out to build a new vanguard of their own. From 1968 through the mid-1970s, the resulting New Communist Movement grew faster than any other current on the US left. ....

... the New Communist Movement can be understood as one more in a century-long series of (so far) unsuccessful efforts to make socialism a significant force in US politics. This movement's consensus was that a breakthrough could finally be made if top priority was given to tackling three longstanding dilemmas of US radicalism: How can the US working class movement be put on a firm internationalist, anti-imperialist basis? What strategy can mobilize a successful fight against racism? And how can revolutionary cadre be developed and united into an organization capable of mobilizing workers and the oppressed to seize power?

Although at this remove the third element of that triad (seizing power) seems batshit crazy, in that super-heated moment, "revolution" was in the air. And the other two priorities -- figuring out how leftists in the belly of capitalist empire should relate to the rest of the world, while struggling to overcome the multi-faceted, ingrained racism(s) of their society -- remain central tasks for all in the US who care for human beings and the planet.

Max recounts the New Communists' intricate twists, turns and permutations and is unflinching about their failures.

History's trick on the generation of 1968 was that -- despite appearances --the odds were stacked against building a revolutionary movement in the 1970s. ... [T]he realities of US politics did offer prospects for the consolidation of an energetic radical trend, numbering in the thousands, anchored in anti-racism and anti-imperialism, with institutional stability at the capacity to galvanize stronger popular resistance to the rising right wing. The essential failure of the New Communist Movement is that it ultimately dissipated rather than coalesced the forces that could have accomplished that task.

... the backward US two-party system, the winner-take-all electoral system erects tremendous barriers to revolutionary forces translating gains made in periods of exceptional upheaval into a lasting base among the country's exploited and dispossessed. Navigating this difficult terrain requires tremendous flexibility; the pulls toward surrendering revolutionary politics in order to gain temporary influence on the one hand, or remaining pure but marginalized on the other, are immense. ... the New Communist Movement did not even put this essential problem at the center of its deliberations. ...

... for all the movement's audacious plans for social revolution, in a sense its failure was not due to thinking too expansively. Rather, it was because the movement shunned the true broad mindedness and flexibility displayed by successful revolutionaries in favor of a narrow and mechanical perspective that this book dubs "miniaturized Leninism."

... this book has been written partly to identify the markers on [the] slippery slope to sectarian irrelevance ...

The book includes a chapter on what this slice of US radicals did with the their lives after their little lefty formations imploded. Some dropped out of collective activism, but many -- gradually -- found new opportunities to plug into the justice struggles of new times. After all, they got into this to struggle for human liberation, even if they lost their way for a season.
Max Elbaum will be doing a bit of a book launch tour for this new edition, beginning on Saturday, April 21 from 4-6pm at the First Congregational Church of Oakland. A full national schedule of events is available. Max is not only an historian -- he's a wise observer of contemporary events, always worth listening to when the opportunity offers.
The decade of the 1970s has also become the proper subject of history, yet unlike the explosive '60s and the reactionary Reaganite '80s, it lacks a distinctive image, even among those of us who lived through it. Anyone seeking background about the 1970s could do worse than look at a couple of histories I've discussed here: Judith Stein's Pivotal Decade and Jefferson Cowie's Stayin' Alive.

Friday cat blogging

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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

National media misunderstanding California -- as usual

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

All true, though sometimes lacking in local nuance.

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Battered, but still resisting ...

Sometimes we all feel like piñatas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How about a Muslim woman for the House?

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

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

The end stage of the Trump presidency?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Enough police killings

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

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

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

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

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

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


Albert is no more

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

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

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

Saturday, April 14, 2018

U.S. strikes in Syria

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

California shows how GOP dies

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

The New Yorker's John Cassidy writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 13, 2018

Score one for Smokey!

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

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

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

Friday cat blogging

Dirty window; sleeping beauty. Somewhere in District 8.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Is this how a conspiracy theory begins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On conspiracy theories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 09, 2018

Assorted Lady Liberties

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

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

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

Sunday, April 08, 2018

It never gets easier

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Post, April 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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