Thursday, May 31, 2018

No on Proposition H and other short takes

A friend asked whether I was going to post my usual run-down of how I was voting on San Francisco's ballot measures -- and I said, no, I just couldn't get excited about any of them.

But on further reflection, that's not entirely true. Proposition H is a truly mendacious piece of garbage that demands denunciation. The Police Officers Association (POA) has been accustomed for decades to bullying Chiefs and politicians to protect bad cops who pay no heed to law or good order -- and getting away with it. Protest against unpunished killings of civilians and the revelation of a culture of corruption and racist text messages within the department led to a Blue Ribbon Panel investigation, intervention by the Obama-era Justice Department, and eventually the replacement of the Chief by an outside professional. In the wake of all this, the civilian Police Commission spent months negotiating a policy for equipping the cops with Tasers (electric stun guns) under careful rules to discourage misuse. (I'm not trusting, but at least they made rules.) This pissed off the POA; hence Prop. H.

Prop H would undermine important policies by the Police Commission and the Police Chief that require de-escalation before use of force.

If Prop H passes, San Francisco police will be allowed to use a Taser on someone who is unarmed and poses no immediate physical threat, or on someone who says no to a police order due to confusion or mental illness. The Prop H law would also undermine much of the de-escalation training the police department is undergoing. ...

If it passes, it can only be changed through another expensive election or a four-fifths majority vote by the Board of Supervisors. It's reckless and unprecedented to strip the Chief and Commission of their power to regulate how a dangerous weapon is used by police officers.

No on H (No to this POA power play) has lined up the entire political community, including our very conservative interim mayor Mark Farrell, all the major mayoral candidates (except Angela Alito who is running for office in some bygone decade), the District Attorney who too often defers to the police, and the current Police Chief. The NO campaign is what I call an ethical shower opportunity; city elites get to improve their odor, cheaply. Let's just hope we the people can kill this terrible POA power grab.
Okay -- here are my short takes on some of the other city propositions:
  • Yes on C: fund Child Care for low and middle income San Franciscans.
  • No on D: funding for some kind of housing. Why not to vote for housing? Because this thing is just dirty politics designed to kill the Child Care proposition; if D gets more votes, even if Prop. C passes (though with less votes), Prop. C is wiped out. Kind of the definition of "rigged," don't you think? This piece of trickery is why Supervisor Breed can't win my vote for mayor.
  • Yes on F: Funding for lawyers for tenants facing evictions. Now that's a real housing proposition. Landlords won't be able to run over undefended tenants.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

DA has declared open season for SFPD shooters

Relatives of two men killed by officers of the San Francisco Police Department held an angry, gut wrenching press conference yesterday to denounce District Attorney George Gascon's decision not to prosecute the shooters.
Standing with her attorney John Burris, Gwen Woods, mother of Mario Woods, spoke from her heart.

"I heard them say they had to stop Mario, no they didn't because they just went ballistic with the gun when our babies were coming home from school,"

"I love that kid and he's worth me fighting for, he was the best of me."

... "I will never let you forget his name, Mario Woods, Mario Woods, Mario Woods!"

ABC Channel 7 news

Jose Gongora Pat, the brother of murdered Luis Gongora Pat, also poured out his anguish. Two officers drove up to where Gongora Pat was sitting against a wall and within 30 seconds had pumped six bullets into the Mayan homeless man.

"Les hablo hoy con el corazon partido. Yo amo a mi hermano Luis, hoy y siempre...y voy a buscar justicia..."

"La policia que mata, que se valla a la carcel...mi lucha es con la injusticia."

The family is also represented by Burris in a wrongful death lawsuit

Public Defender Jeff Adachi spoke aloud the conclusion implied by the DA's refusal to prosecute SFPD killers, if not for murder, even for misdemeanor use of force.

The DA's decision is a warning to the black and brown communities that police officers will face no accountability.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A very British socialist and a very British socialism

A few years ago, a British friend gave me a "What Would Clement Do?" T-shirt and complimented me that I was the only Yank she knew who might understand it. She was exaggerating my erudition; though I'd heard of British Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee, I didn't know hardly a thing about him. And so, eventually, I picked up historian John Bew's exhaustive biography, Clement Attlee: The Man Who Made Modern Britain.

Bew advocates vigorously for the historic significance of his subject:

... it is difficult to think of another individual through whom one can better tell Britain's story form the high imperialism of Queen Victoria's Jubilee of 1887, through two world wars, the Great Depression, the nuclear age, and the cold war, and the transition from empire to commonwealth.

Born in the late 19th century into Britain's comfortable middle class, Attlee was on his way to a genteel conservative life via a second tier public (private) school, Oxford, and reading for the bar, when he took a detour into the London slums (Stepney, Limehouse) and emerged a convinced socialist. Amid the frothy political currents of the day, he took up with the pragmatic socialists -- as opposed to the airy intellectuals or dogmatic Marxists. These socialists eventually amalgamated with the trade unions to form the Labour Party. The Great War (1914-18) pulled Attlee into combat; amid the slaughter at Gallipoli and later in Iraq, he was lucky enough to suffer wounds which took him away while his units were decimated. He came out of the war a respected major, a leader of men, and returned to campaigning for socialism in London's East End. He was elected to Parliament in 1922 proclaiming:

"I stand for life against wealth ... I claim the right of every man, woman and child in the land to the best life that can be provided. Instead of the exploitation of the mass of the people in the interests of a small rich class, I demand the organization of the country in the interests of all as a cooperative commonwealth in which land and capital will be owned by the nation and used for the benefit of the country."

... [In those years] socialists may have remained deeply unsatisfied with the situation in post-war Britain, but the point that Attlee was making was that they no longer had any excuse for failing to participate. He threw down the gauntlet to those who believed they were 'above the rough and tumble of a local election', or above the need for compromise on politics. He condemned the "revolutionary idealist" who rejected democratic participation. This type of extremist would "criticise and condemn all methods of social advance that do not directly square with his formulae and will repeat his shibboleths without any attempt to work out their practical application."

The Great Depression of the 1930s with mass unemployment and near starvation among the working class tempted him toward a less 'democratic' radicalism envisioning implementing "socialism by decree" if Labour should ever gain power. But the rise of fascism in Europe changed his views:

the British Labour Party should define itself as standing for democracy over totalitarianism. Whether that totalitarianism was fascist or communist was essentially irrelevant.

It didn't help that he experienced the communists in East End London as violent thugs, all too similar to British fascist Oswald Mosley's followers.

In 1935, Attlee was elected leader of the parliamentary Labour Party. He was thought a weak choice, but had supporters in all factions. He had led his party to support full self-government for India and had lent his support to the fighters of the Spanish Republic, visiting soldiers in that civil war. The party now put forward what was seen as a "moderate" program:

A Labour government would nationalise the Bank of England, coal, electricity, cotton, and transport. Unemployment would be tackled and the means test for welfare would be abolished.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party in government was appeasing Hitler abroad and failing to bring prosperity at home. As British resistance to the Nazi sweep across Europe crumbled in 1940, the old war horse Winston Churchill came in as Prime Minister and formed a government of national unity, bringing in Labour with Attlee as the party's leader. Bew speculates that for Churchill in that terrible moment,

... if turning Britain socialist was the price of victory, it was one he might be willing to pay.

Meanwhile, Attlee offered his understanding of what Labour's war aims ought to be:

"It would be an error to think changes are only needed in dictatorship countries, or after the war Western democracies can return to their rear positions unaffected..." [Labour was fighting not only against fascism but also] to make "the world safe for the ordinary man and woman of whatever creed or color," and for the "fundamental decencies of life."

Churchill and Attlee worked as successful wartime partners. Attlee's experience in the 1914 war had reinforced his gut level patriotism and given him a sense of the social mobilization required to win an existential national struggle. The Labour ministers were thought to have made essential contributions to war mobilization. And then -- dramatically -- in 1945 just as hostilities were being completed, the British electorate voted the Conservatives out of power and installed the Labour Party with Attlee as prime minister.

The residue of the war greatly assisted Labour in carrying out its program. The nation had become accustomed to a mix of disruption, solidarity and shared sacrifice. Wartime controls on finance and industry meant that it was possible with minimal disturbance to nationalize key economic sectors in accord with long stated aims. And Labour turned the aroused energy of the nation to creating the National Health Service (over the objections of many doctors) and building housing for the returning soldiers. Concurrently, independence finally came to India, signaling the end of empire though further decolonization took another decade and a half.

No British government of the twentieth century was as active, in terms of legislation passed, as the Attlee administration when it came to changing the relationship between state and society.

By 1951, Labour's leaders, largely men (very few women) who had carried the nation through the war against fascism, were quite simply tired. Voters returned the Conservatives to power in that year; Attlee remained party leader until 1955 -- a run of 20 long years at the highest level of British politics.

Obviously, Attlee's career played a huge role in shaping the Britain that endured at least until Margaret Thatcher's Conservative regime (1979-90) and in some ways until today, though its legacy of enlightened social policies is always under assault. He wasn't ever a heroic or larger than life leader like his contemporary Churchill; people tended to underestimate him, but he certainly helped bring change gracefully to a Britain losing its empire and its world position, all for the benefit of its people. Not bad.

One of John Bew's themes in this biography is how Attlee's socialism differed from pretty much all the other variants that thrived in the 20th century. He was not ideological in the common sense.

For Attlee, British socialism had a pre-history which long predated the theories of Karl Marx. [He looked to the writings of Romantic poets, to Percy Blythe Shelley, to John Ruskin, to Edward Morris .... but] ... aesthetic or idyllic socialism could take one only so far. The nation and the state could not be wished away; in fact Attlee came to think of them as positive instruments of change. [He was formed in part by the American Edward Bellamy's forward looking socialist vision ...] "the Golden Age lies before us and not behind us, and is not far away."

Improving conditions for workers, such as wages, working hours, insurance and healthcare, was the first battle the Labour movement should fight. .. while he believed that it was necessary to insert some science into socialism, there was a danger it would become too mechanical and systematized, and lose sight of the citizens it was supposed to liberate. "The besetting sin of the scientific type of social reformer is his failure to make allowance for the idiosyncrasies of the individual."

For an extended time, this British socialism worked for most citizens. Eventually a rapacious modern capitalism replaced it and Labour for a long time lost its moorings, whether in opposition or in government. As the current Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May stumbles through Brexit, Labour has regained much popularity -- can it again find a way to look ahead? "What WOULD Clement Do?"

Monday, May 28, 2018

A test of civic faith

In this tough season for hope for a more righteous country, lawyers have taken starring roles in resisting rot. Donald B. Verrilli Jr was the U.S. Solicitor General under Obama; that means he was the government's lawyer, arguing the government's cases for good or ill at the Supreme Court. Last week he described our condition at graduation at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.

... Of course, our Constitution and our laws are just words on a page. And the courts that enforce our laws are just human institutions like any other. The world’s most oppressive regimes have constitutions. They have laws. They have courts. And very often their constitutions and their laws proclaim the same commitments to human rights and to the rule of law as ours do. What ultimately distinguishes us from those kinds of regimes is whether we really believe in those words on the page and whether we make the sacrifices that a genuine commitment to these values demands. What matters is whether we have faith.

Let’s not mince words. Our civic faith is undergoing an extreme test.

I am not talking about disagreements over policy. In our democratic system we will always debate and disagree about policy, and we should. That is how we learn and grow and prosper as a nation. Something much more important is at stake.

We have a President who tries every day to undermine the public’s confidence in the rule of law – who sows doubt about the integrity of the women and men of the Department of Justice and the FBI (women and men whose integrity and commitment to public service I saw up close every day for the better part of eight years when I was in the government), a President who demands that his political adversaries be thrown in prison, who attacks the integrity of judges when they rule against him.

We have racists and Nazis marching with torches in Charlottesville Virginia chanting “blood and soil” like they did in Germany in the 1930s, and a President who refuses to call them what they are.

We have unprecedented attacks on the free press, criticism dismissed as “fake news” and critics threatened with financial ruin.

And some version of this occurs virtually every day, to the point that it is now defines what is normal in our political discourse.

And it’s not just the President. Our political leaders routinely forsake compromise, demonize opponents, and sell out the long term health of our constitutional system in order to gain maximum short-term partisan advantage.

This is taking an enormous toll. More and more people believe that the system is rigged, that our institutions are corrupt, that our Constitution and laws are just words on a page – just tools to be manipulated in the service of selfish interests. This is a test of faith.

Of course, it is overdoing it to sacralize the U.S. Constitution. As the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison insisted in 1832, by accommodating continuation of slavery, that Constitution amounted to

the most bloody and heaven-daring arrangement ever made by men for the continuance and protection of a system of the most atrocious villany ever exhibited on earth.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day -- a day set aside to place flowers on the 600,000 some casualties of the Civil War that ended slavery. That war led to amendments to the Constitution that made U.S.-born males of color full citizens. Women had to keep agitating for another half century. And wherever some could and can, some people who have enjoyed power have tried to constrain the emerging citizenship of their neighbors.

Our test of faith remains: can we make the laws and the Constitution an instrument for greater justice and wider democracy? In our history, when laws have served grander purposes, it has been because we the people made it so. It remains as it did in Garrison's time, up to us.

H/t for the Verrilli speech to Paul Rozenzweig at Lawfare.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Let the winds blow

I have written before at length about community struggles over development of wind energy offshore of Martha's Vineyard Island in Massachusetts. Nothing about the process has been easy. The island and nearby Cape Cod are both populated by very determined environmentalists and very participatory citizens who want all the t's crossed before they warm to a big, novel project. And many of them enjoy enough economic and educational privilege to insist vocally on their views being heard.

But after decades of process, the state has signed a contract for an offshore 800 megawatt wind energy project that will power 400,000 homes in the next few years. The company whose bid won was smart to enlist a broad cast of local Bay State supporters.

A New Course for Offshore Wind. from VineyardWindMA on Vimeo.

This will be the first large wind project off the United States; we'll be playing catch up to many European countries in developing this resource, but at least we're getting started.

And, according to David Roberts, the Donald's backward regime doesn't seem to be impeding this move. In fact, Roberts is hopeful.

Donald Trump has a long history of hating on wind power — at least wind farms that threaten to block his views or impact his commercial operations. (He tweeted against a Scottish wind farm near one of his golf courses 60 times and reportedly wrote the country’s first minister at the time a series of unhinged letters about it.)

But Trump’s personal obsessions don’t seem to be dictating policy in this area. In April, the Department of Interior came out in strong support of the offshore industry. Secretary Ryan Zinke wrote an op-ed boosting the industry and DOI announced two new leases off the coast of Massachusetts amounting to 390,000 acres.

... it really does look like the US is getting into gear. The US Department of Energy predicts around 22,000 MW of offshore wind by 2030. But like so many other clean energy technologies, offshore wind already seems to be advancing and getting cheaper faster than anyone expected. My bet is that DOE’s number, like the vast bulk of predictions about renewable energy to date, will prove wildly below the mark.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Watch out for those camels; they take over

Erudite Partner's latest article for Tom Dispatch is available on Salon.

They are like the camel’s nose, lifting a corner of the tent. Don’t be fooled, though. It won’t take long until the whole animal is sitting inside, sipping your tea and eating your sweets. ...

She warns that U.S. killer drones are spreading, anchoring deadly operations without much public disclosure in the Middle East, Asia Minor, Central Asia, Africa, and even the Philippines. And that's not the half: under Trump just who they are targeting has become less clear and which government agencies are choosing those targets has become more obscure. And now the Marine Corps is trying to develop a drone that won't even need a human operator with a joystick to launch fire and fury from the skies. ...

Read all about it.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Insurgent judicial hopefuls

We've got a novelty on the San Francisco June primary ballot: four experienced public defenders trying to unseat four incumbent Superior Court Judges. This doesn't happen often. The resurrected Bay Guardian endorsements explains why:
Under the state Constitution, Superior Court judges are elected officials, but the law has a loophole: If a judge steps down in the middle of their term, the governor appoints the replacement. And unless someone comes forward to challenge that incumbent, the race never even appears on the ballot. The vast majority of judges in the state who retire or otherwise leave the bench do so in the middle of their terms. So it’s rare that an open seat comes up.
Obviously this system ensures that political insiders, the sort of lawyers who know governors for example, have the inside track on being appointed. There's nothing underhanded about this, but it does tend to mean that governors of both parties appoint people who aren't boat-rockers. And mostly the voters never get any say.

Like most people who think about judicial elections, the idea makes me a little queasy. I don't want judges signaling their political opinions on the campaign trail or, especially, raising campaign money from the kind of people who give to obscure candidates -- rich people with controversial interests. I want judges doing their honest best to apply the law, not looking over their shoulders for fear of an electoral challenge.

The Trump era has reminded me that there can be social value in institutionalism -- that adhering to regular order can be a bulwark against demands from a demagogue who incites and claims his legitimacy from popular excitement.

But the regular order in the local legal system and the courts has not been good, or fair, or honest to a lot of people. Just today, the regular legal order that protects cops who shoot irresponsibly absolved the killers of two local citizens.

And the judicial insurgents -- Phoenix Streets, Maria Evangelista, Kwixuan Maloof, and Niki Solis -- have put in the time in the San Francisco Public Defender Office to know all too much about what the justice system looks like to folks who are in trouble, poor, mostly of color, mostly without powerful, "respectable" advocates. Our PD office is an extraordinarily well run branch of the city government. Judges with their experience would genuinely diversify the local bench.

The challengers are running a campaign that highlights that they are Democrats and that the judges they are challenging were appointed by Republican governors. This is not so surprising; we used to have Republican governors. But the judges they are challenging seem to be registered Democrats, just like the challengers. That is, they are San Franciscans. We pretty much don't do Republicans around here, even at the exalted reaches of society.

I wish the challengers had skipped the partisan appeal which is a bit of a red herring and stuck to promoting the diverse experience they would bring to the local bench. They are experienced, well-qualified attorneys who would bring something new to the courts. We need that. I will be voting for them.

Friday cat blogging

Let's give Morty pride of place today. Here he considers whether the out of doors might be more interesting than frightening. He is easily shooed back inside any open door; in truth, he's a bit of a wuss, a fine survival attribute in a housecat.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Sign of a toxic brand

I know Republicans aren't popular around here, but apparently across the state, the GOP is dying. According to the centrist "nonpartisan, nonprofit" newsletter CALmatters:

Out of 2.6 million Californians who have registered to vote since Donald Trump’s election in 2016, [political consultant Mike Madrid] told me a mere 3.1 percent were Latinos who registered Republican. The stat shows how the largest segment of California’s population has turned against the GOP.

It surely does.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Google as "digital truth serum"

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is forthright about the point of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are:

... social science is a real science. And this new, real, science is poised to improve our lives.

Count me as mildly skeptical, for reasons I'll outline below. Nonetheless, this book is fun, easy to read, and full of suggestions for more exploration.

He's a good explainer: he introduces the concept of data by pointing out that his grandmother's life experience watching family relationships has likely made her the one of his relatives with the most sophisticated view of what he should be looking for in a potential wife. Good catch, that.

But the data that Stephens-Davidowitz wants us to appreciate, as he does, is the tracks left by of our digital explorations, Google searches, and choices on the site PornHub. We are (usually) individually anonymous as we move about the net, but the aggregate of our web behavior tells an awful lot about us as a society.

The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else.

In 2015, when Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik shot up his office party killing fourteen people in San Bernardino, then-President Obama went on the air urging us all to reject painting any community with a broad brush.

That evening, literally minutes after the media first reported one of the shooters' Muslim-sounding name, a disturbing number of Californians had decided what they wanted to do with Muslims: kill them. The top Google search with the word "Muslims" in it at that time was "kill Muslims." ... While hate searches were approximately20 percent of all searches about Muslims before the attack, more than half of all search volume about Muslims became hateful in the hours that followed it.

...Obama asked Americans to "not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear." Yet searches for "kill Muslims" tripled during his speech.

The PornHub searches Stephens-Davidowitz examines actually seem somewhat comforting in comparison to the hate searches. Sure, people look for some pretty weird sex stuff. But overall

... there's something out there for everyone. Women, not surprisingly, often search for "tall" guys, "dark" guys, and "handsome" guys. But they also sometimes search for "short" guys, "pale" guys, and "ugly" guys. ...Men frequently search for "thin" women, women with "big tits," and women with "blonde" hair. But they also sometimes search for "fat" women, women with "tiny tits," and women with "green" hair.

And yes, he uses search data to conclude that about 5 percent of men are gay, though in most of the country, half of those are still in the closet. He admits to being unable to use any of the varieties of web data to figure out how many lesbians are out there.

And so the book goes on, disgorging fascinating data-derived observations, some of which seem more plausible than others, but all of which seem at least suggestive of potential for future study.

Yet I did not come away convinced that I was being introduced to a new triumph of social science. I've lived at the intersection of data and purposeful activity for years. That is, I have at lot of experience with some of the largest data sets anyone worked with before they had access to Google: election participation statistics and results. When working on a campaign, I've often found myself trying to calm someone waving a new poll: "Hold on! We already know where that district leans because we have the much larger polls which were the past elections." Sometimes results can change, but the underlying data set from which to work has been complied over the years by election authorities.

(By the way, the flap over Cambridge Analytica was an example of confusion over the utility of data. That kind of data-based profiling of voters is always very tempting to some, but apparently as is usually the case, the election pros who got the stuff from Cambridge Analytica found it useless. Voters chose Trump; the election was not manipulated by a sneaky data company.)

What we can do with that big data comes down, in large part, to how imaginatively we can query and reinterpret what we already know. I don't think what we do with search data is any different. What we learn from it will be largely determined by the rigor and creatively with which we choose to question it. And that's not science, as science is often understood using the natural sciences as the frame of reference. Social science remains more a mix of art and science -- modern cosmologists might agree.

For all my skepticism, Stephens-Davidowitz's little book is great fun for anyone who cares about data's possibilities.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What are they hiding?

The Trump/Russia scandal/investigation/perversion of legal norms keeps growing new branches. Its complexities are more than anyone living a normal life has time to sort out.
This Center for American Progress video from their Moscow Project does a pretty good job of connecting some of the people and high points in the convoluted story.

For myself, I scarcely need the Mueller investigation to convince me that Trump was begging for illegal Russian help: I saw him live on TV asking the Russians to hack his opponent (who I didn't like much either). Everything else is just elaboration on the obvious.

Smart reporters are beginning to bring the threads together based on the most plausible motives for the ongoing crimes: the Trump crew is putting up the country for sale to whoever will pay them personally the biggest bribe. See for example: Oh, not all of them are solely about taking all they can from the candy store -- some are about hating on Black and brown people and polluting the land as much as fossil fuel barons want. But even those are corrupt.

Are we going to put up with this? Resist and protect much.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Never again

The California Museum in Sacramento includes a powerful permanent exhibit -- UPROOTED: Japanese Americans during WWII. Seventy-six years ago, Japanese Americans in California were swept up and sent away to internment camps. Old people recount their memories of childhoods ripped apart.

"My grandmother was looking at her roses and she said 'I don't think I'm ever going to see this again.'"

These people were no threat to this country as cooler heads understood even then. But fear and racial panic overwhelmed common sense and human decency. Somebody had to suffer for the Japanese empire's attack on Pearl Harbor. (Ironically, Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not locked away. The U.S. Army welcomed their labor for the war effort.)

The actor George Takei of Star Trek fame was one of those children sent to the camps. He explains in a looping video at the entrance to the exhibit how travesty came to pass.

Here's more from Takei on the internment from a PBS documentary.
Finding this exhibit in a state facility just a block from the capitol building reminds me how glad I am to be a Californian. We are far from perfect, but we still think we can make our state kinder, smarter, and better.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Stacey Abrams is making history

Stacey Abrams is all over these days. This highly qualified Black woman aims to become Governor of Georgia by turning out to vote an emerging majority consisting of people of color and young folks of all races. She has been the subject of a comment in the New Yorker and of speculation in the New York Times, just to mention a few of her appearances on the national scene. Her primary is Tuesday -- she's expected to win this round and become the Democratic standard bearer in this rapidly changing state.

But she's my favorite candidate of the season because she's the only one I know who tells her life story in a comic book. Learn more.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Nicaragua: some volcanic eruptions give little warning

Down with lies! 64 people killed in Nicaragua -- Long live socialism! Freedom for the heroes!

Echoes of the popular uprising in Nicaragua demanding the resignation of President Daniel Ortega have come to light poles in San Francisco's Mission District.

Even with the current rapid gentrification, the Mission remains very close to Nicaragua and that Central American country's ups and downs erupt in our streets too. In 1978, during the insurrection against the dictator Somoza, the initials of the insurgent "FSLN" predominated in the local graffiti. Today the posters set a heavily armed pig figure labeled "SFPD" alongside "La Chayo" -- a reference to Ortega's wife and omnipresent Vice President Rosario Murillo, also as a heavily armed pig figure. (As usual, click on image to enlarge.)

The digital magazine Envio, a publication of the Jesuit Universidad Centroamericana – UCA, reports from Managua in sorrow and hope. Some excerpts:

No one expected such a flare-up, but it was ignited by innumerable pent-up grievances. It started when pensioners protested social security reforms. Once the student-supported protest was met by violence, it was surprisingly joined by even more, not fewer people. Rural areas have lived with terror and deaths for years while Managua just seemed to slumber through it all. But once awake, the entire country came together. This spontaneous and unexpected explosion wasn’t the product of an outside conspiracy, but the eruption of pent-up grievances. Volcanoes don’t forewarn. ...

Two Nicaraguas now stand opposed to each other to a degree unimaginable only a month ago.

One continues to support the Ortega-Murillo government despite everything. The reasons include common economic interests on the one hand, and an impenetrable ideology on the other. Those in that Nicaragua believe the government, which still holds all the levers of power, will be able to recover its hegemony by force and reglue its alliance with big business, thus recovering the stability shattered in April. ...

The other one, the Nicaragua of the insurrection of consciousness, can’t forget or forgive the spilling of so much unnecessary blood or the continuation of a regime that went way beyond the nation’s patience and tolerance. That other Nicaragua is demanding not only justice but a change of government. Some, particularly students, intellectuals, peasants, owners of various-sized business and much of the population in general want that change now. Others, above all the powerful economic groups, want a smooth and ordered change, step by step, even if it takes until 2021, very likely because they have a clearer idea of what it would cost to unseat this government, and prefer to protect their interests. Whatever the timeline, those who want a real change are inspired by that insurrection of consciousness, one that is still growing.

There are also two Nicaraguas in a chronological sense, with a clear dividing line between them: the Nicaragua of before those unexpected days of rebellion and the Nicaragua of today. There’s no way to know yet how or when the new country born of that insurrection will take shape, but virtually no one believes anything will remain as it was before. ...

I can only report all this with almost immeasurable sadness. Nicaraguans have been through so much in the last 50 years; they apparently will have to go through more to determine the direction of their country in the days ahead. They are smart, enduring, and believe in their country's resilience.

Meanwhile, I continue to support the work of El Porvenir, helping Nicaraguan communities at the end of rutted dirt roads to enjoy clean water and healthy sanitation facilities. Director Rob Bell writes:

After a brief interruption, our Managua and field staff are back to developing projects and working side by side with communities who desperately need water and sanitation services. Our work is more important than ever as the Nicaraguan economy will suffer from reduced tourism; economists are predicting at least a 100 million dollar decrease.

... we are preparing for lower income and working to raise the funds for the projects that were to be built with income from the canceled [visiting work] groups. We urge you to make a special donation today at /donate so that we can continue to partner with rural Nicaraguans on much needed water, sanitation, and watershed projects. In 2017 alone, El Porvenir worked with 20,271 rural Nicaraguans to build 24 water projects, 6 school handwashing facilities, 405 latrines , and 81 fuel-efficient stoves. Additionally, community members planted 102,840 trees throughout their watersheds.

We plan to work with even more people this year, but we need your help to be able to do that.

We hope for peaceful and just resolution in Nicaragua.

Friday, May 18, 2018

“Dear Racism in School, your time is over!”

Students, parents, and friends from the statewide community organization, Californians for Justice, rallied on the steps of the capital in Sacramento yesterday calling for an end to racial injustice in the schools.

Sixty-four years after the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education called for desegregation in our schools, the California school system is still separate and still unequal.

Students of color face systemic racial injustice and nearly 40% of Black and Brown students in the state attend predominantly (90-100%) student of color campuses. These facilities are underfunded and resourced compared to predominantly white campuses.

Their new report, Why Race and Relationships Matter, is available for download at the link. It excels at sharing the feelings of the next generation of Californians.

School climate is a critical factor in behavioral, academic, and mental health outcomes, yet students of color experience a far less supportive school environment than their white peers.

  • In California, Black students are twice as likely as white peers to feel unsafe or very unsafe at school
  • More than half of Latinx students in California report feeling disconnected from school, and less than half report that they are treated fairly
  • In California, Asian students were among the least likely to believe their schools had caring adult relationships (30% of respondents, compared to 39% of white students
  • Black girls are suspended six times as often as their white peers, and Black and Latinx students are more likely to be referred for discipline violations and then suspended or expelled than white students

Trinity Harper, an Oakland student leader, had a message for Racism:

You have overstayed your welcome. You have negatively impacted the development of too many of our students, especially youth of color. You give us the illusion that we are incompetent which is something we are anything but… While you have been deeply ingrained into our schools and institutions it is now time we part. You will be replaced with solidarity, love, and constant evolution.

Let's hear it for the young people!

Friday cat blogging

This one seems suspicious.

While this one surveyed its domain confidently.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

This too is what resistance looks like

Sometimes the proliferating puzzle pieces that are the Trump/Russia/Michael Cohen influence peddling/porn star payoff scandals seem more than any normal person can untangle. It probably isn't necessary to track every detail. Who can? That's what prosecutors and lawyers are for. But a pattern of corrupt dealings continues to leak out.

New Yorker reporter Ronan Farrow, who broke the Harvey Weinstein woman-abuse story, got the accounts that knocked off Eric Schneidermann, and improbably also has a new book on U.S. diplomacy, is sure on a roll these days.

Now he's leaped into the all-consuming Trump scandal vortex. We've been hearing for a few days that someone leaked the government banking reports that showed that Michael Cohen had been selling (possibly fraudulently) consulting about Trump to credulous corporations. Farrow put out the story of the information's origins today.

In the era of Trump, apparently what motivates a leaker to release government banking documents can be fear that somehow proper legal bureaucratic process is being undermined. Whoever put out the bank reports was willing to risk going to jail lest truth was being concealed.

...disclosing a SAR is a federal offense, carrying penalties including fines of up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and imprisonment for up to five years. The official who released the suspicious-activity reports was aware of the risks, but said fears that the missing reports might be suppressed compelled the disclosure.

“We’ve accepted this as normal, and this is not normal,” the official said. “Things that stand out as abnormal, like documents being removed from a system, are of grave concern to me.” Of the potential for legal consequences, the official said, “To say that I am terrified right now would be an understatement.” But, referring to the released report, as well as the potential contents of the missing reports, the official also added, “This is a terrifying time to be an American, to be in this situation, and to watch all of this unfold.”

This person may well be exposed. But the leaker grasps what is at stake.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Calling out evil

Yesterday San Franciscans rallied outside the Israeli consulate, refusing to be silent about our government's complicity in massacre and expropriation.


In case anyone missed it, here's Dana Milbank's catalogue of foul creatures who the US invited to the opening of our new embassy on stolen land in Jerusalem.
Robert Jeffress, the pastor who gave the opening prayer, who has said that both Islam and Mormonism are “heresy from the pit of hell” — and that Jews are bound for that same destination. “You can’t be saved being a Jew,” he said in a 2010 interview.

John Hagee, an evangelical Christian leader who gave a closing prayer, who is known for, among other things, once saying God allowed the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed, to happen “because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was standing at Trump’s side last year when the president said there were “very fine people” among neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and later defended Trump’s handling of the situation.

And Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who spoke at a reception for the U.S. delegation, after which Kushner and Ivanka Trump asked for Yosef’s blessing. The rabbi made waves recently for comparing black people to monkeys and proposed blessing only “a person with a white father and mother.”

Given the lineup, this was less a diplomatic ceremony than a campaign event. David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, praised “the vision, the courage and the moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude, President Donald J. Trump.”

Moral clarity! And that’s not all: “I think President Lincoln is smiling today as another great Republican, Donald J. Trump, opens our embassy.”

... what’s clear today is that Israel now resembles one of those ancient kingdoms that God rained down his wrath upon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Earth acting up

We had a little earthquake last night, shaking us just enough to remind that the earth can move.

This prompted me to check in on the ongoing volcanic eruption underway on the Big Island of Hawaii. This video provides the most vital footage I could find, from the exhausted-appearing scientist offering the US Geological Survey report and warnings, through the local guys in the National Guard doing their best to assist in a community disaster, through the extraordinary closing close ups of an inexorable lava flow. Somebody wanted us to see what it's like to have the earth's molten core crawling toward us.

With this going on not far from Hilo, I miss my friend Hattie, recently deceased, who would have provided a realistic local picture.

I do have another friend on the Big Island who is experiencing the volcano's awakening from a different vantage point. Andrew is a technician/engineer caring for the Keck telescopes located on the top of Mauna Kea. He begins his description of the mountain's recent stirrings like this:

The ground beneath us is one constant in life you just expect to never change. Solid and unyielding, we build our lives upon the firm foundations of the Earth. When this constant betrays us it is truly disconcerting. The world loses some of its comforting stability.

Last Friday was a day when our islands were reminded of the instability of our world in a rather abrupt fashion.

It was clear weeks ago that the volcano was restless. volcanophiles like myself found ourselves checking the reports and charts daily. ...

A Darker View

Then came the 6.9 earthquake last Friday. Read it all at the link. Andrew is not eager to experience anything like it again.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Dangerous clowns

Vegas Tenold, born in Norway, now living in Brooklyn, responded to Anders Behring Breivik's white-nationalist-inspired 2011 massacre of seventy-seven Norwegians, mostly young people, by wanting to understand the hard right in his new country. He describes himself as a balding white European, the perfect appearance for hanging out among our white nationalist fringe, despite always having voted socialist in Norway. A graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, he went about his project responsibly: "The reporting for this book always took place with the full knowledge and consent of my subjects. I never concealed who I was or presented myself as anything but a journalist." For five years, he embedded himself among Nazis, violent skin heads, neo-Confederates, Klansmen, and white pride nationalists. He spent election night in November 2016 drinking with several guys from a white nationalist mini-formation that called itself the Traditionalist Workers Party.

The ominous title for his resulting book, Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America repeats the tweet the TWP's leader sent him at 3 AM that morning.

The far right had their president, and all I had was a splitting hangover and five years worth of notes I hoped would help me figure out how they'd managed to pull it off.

Tenold's story leads through scenes that are scary and repulsive. But though I found it gripping, it inspired in me more curiosity than terror. These men (Tenold's subjects are nearly all men) are clowns, sad ones at that. The narrative follows around an inept aspiring Fuhrer, Matthew Heimbach of the TWP, as he visited rallies and encampments of all the varieties of the white extremist fringe. Pre-Trump (and pre-Richard Spencer of alt-right notoriety who Heimbach thought a lightweight), the TWP hoped to unify the hard right into a serious political movement. But however dangerous they might be to a person of color who unwarily encountered them, most of them couldn't organize themselves out of a paper bag. These were radicals who might have forgotten to bring matches to a cross-burning. Most preferred drinking and fighting among themselves to any political project. Fortunately.

Tenold has concluded

if six years spent with the radical right taught me anything about the underlying reason for white nationalism, it is this: 'We are not them, and they are not us.'

The Trump election glow among the hard right faded quite quickly. Establishment Republicans didn't need these angry, unsophisticated men; they had power now and the poor slobs should crawl back in their holes. And the violent Charlottesville marches and rally proved the hard right's undoing. Heimbach received some laudatory "Heil Heimbach" salutes from the Nazis in attendance, but most of the country recoiled from visible hatred and bigotry, from the beating of DeAndre Harris and the murder of Heather Heyer. Under pressure from civil society if not their President, all the old splits and jealousies reappeared.

The bickering, disavowals, and counter-disavowals in the wake of Charlottesville are a reminder that, for all the attention it received and hysteria it created, the far right movement in America still had no idea what it was doing. That isn't to say that the groups and their members, on their own and together, aren't capable of violence, harassment, and even acts of terror, merely that corralling their efforts into a focused political movement would be akin to herding a flock of particularly hateful and racist cats.

... Ultimately, I believe the far right in America, at least in the incarnation I spent years covering, is destined to fail. Not because America is inherently good and that the forces of justice and progress are always stronger than those of intolerance and hatred, but because white supremacy is doing just fine without the far right.

The country has spent decades perfecting an ostensibly nonracial form of white supremacy, and it is serving with remarkable efficiency. Private prisons, mandatory sentencing, seemingly unchecked police power, gerrymandering, increasingly limited access to healthcare and abortion -- these are all tendrils in an ingenious web designed to keep people poor and powerless. ... I believe Matthew [Heimbach] was right when he said that the elites and politicians hate his people, but they don't hate them because they are white; they hate them because they are poor.

Aspiring Fuhrer Heimbach is last seen launching a miserable sort of back-to-the-land commune for worn out bigots.
I'd describe this book as a workman-like effort, not for everyone, but if you want or need a glimpse into the world of the US hard right, an approachable introduction. This bunch hasn't produced a Timothy McVeigh, but it certainly could.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Remembering my mother

Here she is with her squirmy toddler, circa 1948.

I feel a bit discordant posting this as she despised Mother's Day: "it's just something invented by the florists!"

I was very lucky in my relationship with my mother; few of my peers seem to have had it so easy. She simply unequivocally supported and loved me, even when I evolved into someone whose life and beliefs were unexpected. I loved her.

I think she would have said that raising me was her most significant accomplishment. Knowing that makes me a little wistful -- she was smart, competent, informed. In a time with different opportunities for women, she might well have had other, or additional, achievements.

I think too, if someone had asked her what else she was proud of in her life, she might have answered having been an active citizen of a country that defeated Hitler. (She wouldn't have instinctively given the Russian people the credit for this that I do, though I remember her explaining to me that she first had hope during World War II when the Nazis made the mistake of invading the USSR.) Most everyone of her generation felt they'd made a contribution to the war effort; she participated in aircraft monitoring in fields around Western New York. Though a person of the conventional right and no admirer of FDR, she left notebooks from the 1930s full of horror at what was rising up in Germany. She knew personally refugees from fascism. She had no truck with the America Firsters -- the domestic faction soft on fascism in her day -- who wanted to let Hitler conquer all of Europe rather than go to war.

She believed in engaged citizenship. I do too.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

An artist fights complacency

The Trump regime intentionally makes it easy to become numb to ongoing assaults on decency, rule of law, and truth itself.

Artist/Activist Michael D’Antuono put a show on trucks and offered it to tourists in the nation's capital. Then he interviewed them.

The video is a little long, but worth watching.

Saturday scenery: Year of the Dog

The grand civic festival we call Chinese New Year falls in February, complete with parading dancing dragons and fireworks. But the ancient lunar year runs, naturally, for a full year.

This year, we're in the time of the eleventh zodiac animal, the dog.

Honest and loyal, Dogs are the truest friends and most reliable partner.

Perhaps also dogs bring good luck in the lottery?

Households throughout San Francisco quite commonly display the animal on their doors.

"Chinese New Year" is also the "Spring Festival." This may explain why some canine representations are so perky.

All encountered over the last few months while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, May 11, 2018

"The arc of climate awareness curves toward reality" ...

The assertion in the post title comes by way of an article in Grist. This reports on polling by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University that shows that Republicans are somewhat less inclined than they were a year ago to deny climate change.

As to why Republican opinion is bouncing back now, the Yale program’s director Anthony Leiserowitz has an idea: Republican leaders have just been talking about climate change, and climate denial, less often lately.

Past research has shown that public opinion is strongly shaped by “elite cues” — basically, what high-profile politicians and celebrities say and do and how often the media covers it. Last year, the focus on President Donald Trump’s announcement about pulling the country from the Paris Agreement was one factor that could partly explain the sharp downturn in Republican opinion on climate change, Leiserowitz says.

The less Republican leaders talk about climate change, he says, the more their constituents’ opinion “rebounds to where Republicans would be normally if they weren’t hearing a bunch of climate denial from their leadership.”

Most Democrats aren't making climate a big issue either, though for getting out our base, climate concern is a strong spur to action.

In general, except when climate change feels very immediate -- close by, painful -- all of us default to more immediate fears. Those fears are too often defined by by elite cues. I'm supposed to be afraid of Iran and homeless people this week, not rising seas and carbon pollution. Climate communicators haven't figured out how to keep our minds on threats with a longer time frame. Reality will eventually kick us in the teeth, dramatically raising awareness, but it's worth doing all we can to avert worse.

Friday cat blogging

She wasn't sure about the passerby. Was I a danger? I can fairly confidently refer to this one as "she," since 80 percent of orange cats are female.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The good solider Haspel testified

Gina Haspel had her public confirmation hearing for the position of CIA Director before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. She's a career professional officer who headed up a torture site in Thailand during the GW Bush era and later had a leading role in ordering the destruction of the videotapes that showed what her agency did to detainees.

One of the oddest things about her nomination to such a public role is that the CIA refuses to declassify most details of her career (claiming agents/assets might be outed). So we are left without any real information about what she's done/her qualifications. The CIA says she's great. It seems to me that in a democracy citizens who are not Senators deserve to know more than that her agency likes her -- a lot more.

Erudite Partner did commentary during the hearing for Pacifica station KPFA; after all, torture is her subject. Here's the audio.

The following reflections are mine, not the resident expert's.
  • The Democratic Senators' questions seemed sharper than they often have been in such settings. New Mexico's Martin Heinrich nailed the key issue, to my way of thinking:

    “I know you believed it was legal... ... I want to trust that you have the moral compass you said you have. You're giving very legalistic answers to very moral questions.”

  • Nothing I heard suggests Haspel has real qualms about the torture program. She's not prepared to say torture didn't serve the project of defeating terrorist enemies -- though the 6000 page classified Senate Intelligence Committee report apparently came to that conclusion.

    “We got valuable information from debriefing of al-Qaeda detainees,” she told Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). “I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.”

  • She said she wouldn't restart the torture program. It was hard to tell whether she was promising to stand up to the bully in the White House. (Trump thinks we didn't torture enough.) She seemed to equivocate.

    “No one should get credit for simply agreeing to follow the law. That’s the least we should expect from any nominee and certainly the director of the CIA,” [Senator Mark] Warner told Haspel ...

  • Perhaps inevitably since we're not allowed to know anything about her accomplishments, she heavily emphasized her identification with the Agency.

    Haspel cited her support from the rank and file in the agency, noting that “they know that I don’t need time to learn the business of what CIA does. ... I know CIA like the back of my hand,” she said. “I know them, I know the threats we face, and I know what we need to be successful in our mission.”

She's such an unfamiliar, opaque figure that I am allowing myself luxury of trying to form a picture of what sort of person she revealed herself to be. (Usually one has more to go on than one hearing, but that's the situation in which we find ourselves.)

I think she's one smart, tough woman who came up wanting to be a warrior, a hero. There's weren't a huge number of venues for a woman with such an ambition when she joined the CIA in 1985. In the Agency, she found her tribe, her vocation where she could fulfill her ambition. She was very good at whatever they threw at her. She seems to equate loyalty to the Agency with loyalty the people of the United States -- without any inkling that there might be any daylight between those two goods. Perhaps that's inevitable in someone whose life has cloistered her within a dangerous, secret, social niche. It hardly seems good preparation to be anything more than a good soldier. But the job of CIA Director necessarily requires some understanding of a messy civilian society -- a society whose preservation is ultimately the only reason that her warrior caste is privileged to exist.

I don't know if she'll be confirmed; the White House apparently had to persuade her not to back out of the confirmation process last week.

The hearing didn't win any trust from me (not that this was ever likely.) A good soldier is a dangerous weapon when the Commander in Chief cares not a fig for law, decency, or morals.