Saturday, June 30, 2018

"Our City, Our Home"

The other day the San Francisco Chronicle and a boatload of other local media focused their output on our region's substantial unhoused population and the ongoing failure of public policy to much reduce their numbers. I read a lot of the entries linked here and it was discouraging.

In particular, a laudatory profile of the work of San Francisco homelessness chief Jeff Kositsky left me with the feeling that newspaper had buried the lede of its story. About 20 paragraphs in was this:
One reason for the slow pace [of reducing homelessness] is this shocking factoid: Every week, Kositsky’s team gets 50 homeless people off the streets, and every week, 150 more take their place.

On average, that’s 100 people who become homeless in San Francisco and 50 homeless people who arrive here from somewhere else. Some of them are just passing through, and some of them will figure out housing on their own. But many of them won’t.
One hundred residents, our neighbors who live alongside those of us with relatively secure housing, lose their place to live every week. One hundred living, breathing people!

Experienced Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan assembled some of the numbers in an interesting graphic presentation. One point that stuck out was that when city authorities claim they've gotten some people off the streets, some good sized portion of that reduction has been achieved by giving people one-way bus tickets to somewhere else. Does that help anyone except flacks who have to explain city policy? Maybe, but I'm skeptical

Fagan dares attempt to explain why, at this moment in time, San Franciscans perceive an intolerable crisis.
Weariness: The decades-old problem lends itself to a perception that it has no end in sight, and the exploding opioid epidemic, which has thrust more addicts onto the streets shooting up in public, only adds to the sense of futility.

Tents: The proliferation of tents all over the city, in places where before there were mostly just blankets and tarp lean-tos, has been perhaps the biggest driver. The Occupy protest movement that flared in 2011 and died out in 2012 infused hundreds of tents onto the streets, and kindhearted residents followed by raising donations to buy even more.

Unknown artist. This surprisingly bucolic picture of out tent encampments had been turning up on lamp posts.
Gentrification: As the city’s tech-driven economy exploded, traditional homeless hangouts in places like central SoMa or around the Transbay Terminal were revitalized. Unable to blend in so easily, the homeless migrated elsewhere, causing fresh alarm to those unused to seeing camps.

Panhandlers: As many as 50 percent of them, by some estimates, are formerly homeless people who now live inside but are so dysfunctional they revert to the one moneymaking technique they’ve always known. They look homeless, but they’re not.
After decades of hand-wringing and ineffectual policy initiatives, pretty much everyone agrees that the only true solution for people without housing is to provide housing. This is not a problem caused by the idiosyncrasies or disabilities of homeless individuals. It's not surprising that living on the streets drives some people crazy or encourages self-medication with alcohol and drugs. But if we don't like living alongside tent encampments, we have to move people inside.

The Chron reports that street people and allies have a substantive proposal:
... a proposed November ballot measure called “Our City, Our Home.” It would raise taxes on businesses making more than $50 million a year to bring in $300 million annually to build more housing, boost mental health and substance-abuse programs and create more shelter beds. [Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness] and other supporters are gathering signatures to qualify it for the ballot.

“It’s going to completely turn around this crisis,” she said. “Big time!"
When city authorities cry poverty at budget time, they need to remember this is a rich city. There's money here; it's time to put more of it to community use. Homeless people and their friends never have a chance to forget they live adjacent to riches.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Quick points on Kennedy retirement from Supreme Court

There's a lot of fluff and a lot of fear out there on this blow to our already unstable democracy. At core, Kennedy's retirement and whatever subsequent reordering of the court follows will deepen an ongoing crisis of legitimacy of government.

Two Republican popular vote losers [Bush II and Trump] end up packing a Supreme Court that votes 5-4 in favor of a lot of things that the majority of Americans dislike. Very, very, very bad.

Marty, Emptywheel

Much of the distress will be about the near certainty that forced-pregnancy Republicans will, finally, get their dream of overturning Roe v Wade which ostensibly makes abortion legal everywhere. In practice, right wing Republicans have already made the procedure close to unavailable for less-privileged women in some states. That wise Democratic observer of politics Ed Kilgore makes a point worth remembering:

... the era of women being able to count on legal, if not convenient or affordable, abortions in every part of the country will be over in a post-Roe environment, and with it the argument that abortion policy is an annoying “social issue” that should be put aside so that politicians and policy-makers can focus on “real” issues like the economy. With one SCOTUS appointment and one decision, that could all change, and we could enter a period of abortion-policy activism unlike anything America has seen in decades.

My emphasis.

The Trump policy of baby-snatching and jailing at the border seemed to have softened evangelicals embrace of the President momentarily; the focus shifting back to a chance to end legal abortion will lock the fundamentalists and any wavering Catholics back in lock step.

It's worth noting that Anthony Kennedy was not a great jurist, merely a highly influential one, because of sitting for more than a decade as the swing vote between moderate liberals and hard line rightists. Sharp lawyers from both left and right criticize his opinions as poorly argued. Unfortunately, his rulings in favor of gay civil rights and affirming same sex marriage are among his more airy-fairy offerings. This legal weakness (all the other justices, even Thomas, have been more cogent) may make it easier for a court that is hostile to LGBT and women's rights to pick away at what equality we've won under law. They probably can't outright take away our full citizenship, but they can allow discrimination and undermine equality.

And, whoever Trump and the GOPers install on the court will almost certainly sit in judgment on whatever cases arising out of the Mueller investigation work their way to the Supremes. Trump gets to pick a judge who will judge him. That's certainly representative of a low and dangerous moment.

Resistance activists have to recognize that Democrats are very unlikely to be able to prevent any of this. Pols will almost certainly yell and scream and blunder about tactically through the process. But since the power -- the votes -- aren't there, much of this will be an involuntary charade.

Activists have to play it out, but if ever we had to resist forming a circular fire-squad over Democratic missteps, this is it. Skip it. Win in November; don't let Trumpists and bots get us mired in denouncing our enfeebled "leaders."

Thursday, June 28, 2018

When legal remedies are blocked, other shit happens

The Supreme Court's union busting Janus decision reminded me of one my favorite books from the Reagan era: Sabotage in the American Workplace: Anecdotes of Dissatisfaction, Mischief and Revenge. This is a delightful, and sometimes slightly scary, compilation of anecdotes from workers about what they did to get back at a system which used them as miserable cogs in a profit machine. The technological environment of current workplaces is different, but I have no doubt that frustrated workers find ways to screw with the bosses.

Here's a bit from one I enjoyed. "Santa" was a kind of stock clerk; today his workplace might be an Amazon warehouse.

I snuck out the back door of the store during lunch hour, pushing five shopping carts into the woods behind the store, every day, for close to a month. Then I would pull out some rope, which I stole from from the hardware department every morning at seven, and tie those five carts onto the rope and hoist them up various trees.

Finally, twenty-seven working days and 135 shopping carts later, a store manager walked into this "forest of sabotage" ... It took three hours to pull these carts out of the trees.

I committed these acts partly out of boredom and partly out of revenge. ...

The employer never figured out who did it.

Today there would be surveillance cameras, but contemporary workers are no less creative than their parents 30 years ago ... When people are blocked from expressing their dignity in communal, organized ways, they don't stop seeking alternatives.

The book is still available -- really cheap.

Our 16th President knew something lost on too many today

The Koch Brothers got the union busting Supreme Court decision they've been craving; but labor comes first and creates wealth. And labor finds ways to get its own back. To be continued ...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A good one comes to the fore

This tweet is from last Sunday. Yesterday Ben Jealous won his primary by an unanticipated margin and became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Maryland.

In 2012, while leading the national NAACP, Jealous lent his energies to the campaign to end the death penalty in California, preaching for justice at three churches in one day in the Bay Area that fall. He's one to watch.

Who are men?

As a rule, I don't put much energy into thinking about men and manhood. One of the great benefits of age, economic stability, and lesbian-identification is that I don't have to. Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of men around me who I like and even admire. I just enjoy the privilege of thinking of them as people, not as men.

So I probably would never have listened to the podcast from Death, Sex and Money called Manhood, Now if they hadn't partnered with FiveThirtyEight which dropped it in my feed.

Their polling findings from over 1600 respondents are fascinating. Here's what men worry about:
If I hadn't told you this was what men worry about, would you have known these were the concerns of guys? I'm not sure I would have; women worry about the same stuff, though perhaps not so much about the appearance of our genitalia.

But the interviews in the podcast were absolutely fascinating to me.

"Don’t be weak. Don’t be small. Don’t be poor. Don’t be emotional. Don’t be feminine. Don’t be aggressive. Don’t be unapproachable. Don’t be sexist. Don’t be patronizing. Don’t be entitled. Don’t be unemotional. Don’t be big. Don’t be loud.

You might notice a lot of contradictions here."

These interviewers did a great job of mixing conversations with men of many ages, races, sexual orientations, and gender identities in 43 minutes. If interested in contemporary masculinity, highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Who are we licensed to hate now?

The Supreme Court, in today's approval of President Trump's Muslim Ban, and in decisions over the last few weeks, is giving us prompts about who we are permitted, even urged and required, to hate.

During the campaign, Trump trumpeted the lie that "Islam hates us" and promised "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." The Supremes say sure: hatred toward 1.8 million Muslims worldwide is a fine, civil sentiment, however much obscuring bilge government lawyers may have spread over Trump's "animus."

Meanwhile, those same judges refused to apply elementary public accommodations standards -- the rule that if you run a public business you have to serve the public without discrimination -- to a Colorado baker with a religious objection to same sex marriages. You see, some Colorado human rights bureaucrat said something insensitive about right-wing Christian intolerance and that is impermissible "animus."

It's just fine to hate Muslims, but don't criticize bigoted forms of Christianity. Those are the rules for this Supreme Court. With a conservative majority of justices, things are likely to get worse, not better.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) writes in a very American way about how bigotry is embedded in our history -- and how such bigotry ends in shame.

The Supreme Court has permitted the slavery of African Americans, the incarceration of Japanese Americans, and today it permitted the banning of Muslims.

We know what America's history is. Together, we aspire toward something better.

The fight does not end today. We will continue even despite the Trump administration's bigotry and the Court's permission of it.

When the courts fail, they must hear from citizens in the streets and at the ballot box.

I love our library!

Library Journal calls the San Francisco Public Library "a model and inspiration for public libraries worldwide," naming this sprawling institution its Library of the Year. They sure got this right! Anyone who reads this site benefits from this wonderful institution; I borrow nearly every book I write about for some period, if only to extract quotes and check my notes.

But an ambitious and brave library can give so much more to its community. The SFPL understands itself as a necessary part of advancing resistance values that create a warmer, courageous, and more inclusive city. From the LJ:

... “The day after the 2016 election we had our Future of the Library Forum meeting. [Then-director] Luis Herrera recognized that people in the room were hurting. We discarded the agenda we had prepared and had a dialog with the staff. ‘What are we going to do in the library to address equity in our community? How can we be more inclusive?’ were the questions discussed,” says Acting City Librarian Michael Lambert.

From that dialog, SFPL formed its Immigrant Services Task Force, which in turn quickly developed a slate of programs. The SFPL All Are Welcome initiative was born, providing information on how to settle in the United States, how to learn or improve English proficiency, how to become a citizen, and other critical resources, delivered in six languages and via YouTube video. The initiative’s “Know Your Rights” program has been a smash hit, and SFPL has joined with the city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, which calls the library “a critical partner,” plus an immigration law firm, to give one-on-one advice on citizenship applications. The library also offers workshops on how to become an ally to immigrants. A Respect and Love toolkit and resource guide addresses issues of bias and discrimination.

SFPL is taking steps to address racial injustice internally and externally alike. According to Lambert, the two are intertwined. “We want to do a better job of serving impacted communities in San Francisco, and we want all SFPL staff to go through [anti]bias training. These efforts will improve our recruiting from communities of color and make the SFPL workforce even more reflective of the city,” he says.

... For its version of the One City, One Book program, in 2017 SFPL chose Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.’s Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (Univ. of California). More than 700 people participated in over 20 author talks, bike tours, film screenings, panel discussions, and other activities. More than 1,200 patrons checked out the book.

... SFPL frontline staff asked management to have SFPL stock Narcan and give them training on its use to save lives. More than 120 employees have completed the voluntary training. In February, SFPL staff administered Narcan and saved the lives of two patrons. “Having to face tough urban issues like homelessness and the opioid epidemic has redefined the collaborative and expansive role that libraries play in spearheading social policy,” says Lambert.

Much of the SFPL's success goes back to successful local political campaigns. The volunteer organization Friends of the SFPL led the fight in 1994 to pass a ballot proposition creating a fifteen year set aside from property tax revenues to create a Library Preservation Fund. This fund was renewed in 2007 with 74% of the vote. It will come up again in 2022; the library is working overtime to prove its value to the people of San Francisco.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Nicaragua is rising

As I often explain to visiting friends, here in the San Francisco Mission district, Nicaragua and all of Central America feel very close by. "Nicaragua is rising" says the poster that recently appeared in a store window on Mission Street. It refers to the popular struggle which has rocked that country since April and has cost some 200 lives in what was recently the most peaceful nation in its neighborhood.

Nicaragua is close, not only because so many local residents migrated from there, but also because so many San Franciscans participated in the struggle of the 1980s against our own government's determination to crush Nicaraguans' attempt to replace a dictator with democracy and justice. That dream lives on in the hearts of many experienced activists now bent on resistance to the Trump/GOP regime's cruelty and greed.

In her latest article for Tom Dispatch, Nicaragua at the Barricades ... And a Crossroads, Erudite Partner describes both, some of the story of Nicaragua's liberation struggle, as well as some of the history of how North American supporters learned from Nicaraguans. She asks, why should we care that Nicaragua is suffering renewed violence amidst our manifold troubles at home?

...there was a time when Nicaragua’s imaginative, idiosyncratic revolution offered the world an example of how a people might shuck off the bonds of U.S. dominance and try to build a democratic country devoted to human well-being.

This was "heady stuff" in the repressive, GOP/Reagan-afflicted 1980s. North American allies could not always internalize the most important lesson Nicaraguans tried to teach us: that the success of their revolution ultimately would depend on whether we too could remake our country into a place of democracy and justice. E.P. shares that story and more in this new article.

From here, we can have at best little idea where Nicaraguans' contemporary struggles will take them; we can have confidence that our domestic struggles for human decency, for democracy and justice, increase the space for theirs.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Speaking out: for kidnapped children and against our national demons

In anticipation of civil disobedience, Erudite Partner was asked to explain why she was protesting at Otay Mesa immigrant detention jail to a reporter from Bay Area station KQED.

As usual, she was animated and articulate.

Reporter John Sepulvado's report from Otay Mesa is an observant, accurate account of the weekend's actions.

Up close to a toxic system ...

With leadership from PICO California, some 600 or so folks from all over the state descended on Saturday on the Otay Mesa detention center that the US government is renting from a private contractor to hold migrants. We rather thought we'd improved the signage.

While security was distracted by the redecoration project, about 50 of us moved up the fence around the facility.

From there we blocked the main gate during shift change and received the smiles of visiting family members exiting after visiting prisoners.

The best moment was when women locked within responded with cheers to the chants of the massed crowd on the perimeter road. On this day, what we had to offer was encouragement to sister human beings. The long work remains to reform an asylum and migration system that has become poisonous to us all.

This post lacks my usual photos because, for this day, I was on hand to take whatever risks of detention my participation might involve -- so no photographs. Didn't happen today. The condition of our country will likely demand unfamiliar risks from most all of us in this toxic moment.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The people assemble ...

One thousand folks are expected to march and witness tomorrow outside the immigration detention center in San Ysidro. This afternoon belonged to the mechanics of organizing -- buses, sign in sheets, and water bottles.

In early evening, massed clerical persons from many traditions led an interfaith prayer service.

A child participant was fascinated by her candle.

More tomorrow ... or as soon as I am able to post.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A profound moral crisis

Erudite Partner and I are on our way to the border to pray and protest against the Trump/GOPer regime's cruel treatment of migrants. You are more likely to see photos than text here for the next couple of days.

But I thought some might appreciate some thoughtful reflection on this country's history of child snatching from Adam Serwer of The Atlantic.

... part of what horrifies Americans is not the novelty of Trump’s policy, but its familiarity. Americans are fighting a part of themselves that they naively thought they had vanquished. From chattel slavery to American Indian schools to convict leasing, child-snatching has been a tradition in America since before there was an America. If one is convinced that the parents are not truly human, then the children cannot truly be children, and what should be unthinkable becomes inevitable.

Few of the Trump administration’s policies better exemplify the Trump campaign’s commitment to restoring America’s traditional hierarchies of race, religion, and gender, than family separation. That commitment—and Republicans’ muted opposition to or vigorous support of the administration’s actions —has plunged the United States into a profound moral crisis that will define the nation’s character for decades to come. To harden oneself against the cries of children is no simple task. It requires a coldness to suffering that will not be easily thawed. The scars it inflicts on American civic culture will not heal quickly, and they will never completely fade.

People who would do this to children would do anything to anyone. Before this is over, they will be called to do worse.

Serwer points out that the abolitionist novel Uncle Tom's Cabin which gets some credit for spreading the anti-slavery gospel in the north in the 1850's revolves around child theft. Once again, when they revel in their villainy, we cannot be silent or passive.

Friday cat blogging

There's nothing to suggest that this animal wanted the human with the camera to come closer.

But although wary, she didn't pull away when I came close. I love how cats can negate your existence when they wish to.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

When evil curdles your gut, you can do something

Children caught up in the Trump/Sessions/Nielsen border dragnet are turning up around the country. Media are investigating the scope and horror of the program. Ordinary citizens are looking for ways to denounce and impede this cruelty.
  • A flight attendant explains in the Houston Chronicle: "I will not be complicit." She's not alone. Airline workers protest being made part of this atrocity.
  • The Detroit Free Press reports "8-month-old baby lands in Michigan." Another of the children shipped in with that group was 11 months old.
  • The New York Daily News has looked into which entities and individuals in New York are making a good business out of child detentions.

    Housing the migrant children who arrive in America unaccompanied and those who have been separated from their parents at the border is a big business -- one that now costs taxpayers more than $1 billion a year.

    ...The charities and church groups whose duties include running the Unaccompanied Alien Child Program in New York State have seen their revenue double, from $73.9 million in fiscal 2015 to $154.2 million this year.

    Some of the executives at these charities take home hefty six-figure salaries, a review of tax records shows.

    For instance, Jeremy Cohomban, CEO of Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County, received $568,999 in salary and other compensation, according the group’s 2016 tax forms. The group’s contracts under the Unaccompanied Alien Child Program rose from $16.6 million in fiscal 2015 to $19.4 million this fiscal year. ...

Most of us can find something to do to demonstrate where we stand on ripping children from parents already so desperate they sought asylum in this unwelcoming country. Your blogger along with E.P. is off to the border this weekend with our friends from Faith in Action.

You can find protests planned around the country for June 30 at this link.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Our improbable "internal political resource"

As the Trump regime builds out its baby jails for children under five, and we, the resisting majority, scream our protests, some repeat over and over "This is not who we are. We aren't like this!"

And those of us who have never been confident that the USofA was very good through much of our history sigh -- and contemplate the terrible job of gentle (and not so gentle) instruction we owe to our fellow citizens. What a horror show this country has been for so many: there was the attempted extermination of the native people of the continent; the use of African human captives as trafficable, disposal machines for cotton profits; the wars of empire in which torture and murder have been justified by religious and race hatred. And it goes on and on.

But there have also been also those other themes of our history: "inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; "government of, by, and for the people." The gradual expansion of "the people" to encompass more and more of us ...

Mark Kleiman at Reality-Based Community took up how we live among these uncomfortable contradictions a few days ago. We need to learn a more complicated, more truthful, history, of course. But also --

Aspirational history and political rhetoric
... “critical” history isn’t the only kind. National myths are, themselves, potent realities. A country where the belief that horrible actions Aren’t Like Us is widespread has an internal political resource that helps political actors within that country oppose such horrible actions.  A country where that belief isn’t widespread – where criminality is an accepted part of the political culture – lacks that resource, which of course is a benefit to criminal political actors within that country. The accuracy of the underlying belief is an independent question.

This post was a rare exception to the rule on the internet; comments expanded the discussion. Here's one from someone who calls himself "johnarkansaslawyer".

As a leftist, I'm in broad agreement ... that the United States has no particular claim to virtue. Also as a leftist, I'm also able to tell the difference between bad and worse. What we have right now is worse cubed. ...

Hating your own country is the internationalism of fools. That much I do know.

Becoming revolted by your own culture's flaws is a useful phase in development of a broader worldview, assuming you get past it. Getting stuck in that revulsion leaves you just as foolish, just in the opposite direction.

As we resist cruel barbarism, we can't pretend this country is flawless. But neither can we succumb to nihilism. That's throwing away any chance to fight another day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Of such small victories, a different world is made

The Rev. Marlyn Bussey  of St. James A.M.E. Church, San Mateo
Community residents of San Mateo County made it abundantly clear to their Board of Supervisors this morning that it is time for lawmakers to to do the right thing. Every other Bay Area country has funded legal defense for immigrants threatened by our nativist government's program of ethnic cleansing. Faith leaders and supporters testified for an hour within the meeting; afterward, flanked by brave immigrant neighbors, they spoke to the press outside.

Organized by Faith in Action Bay Area, folks made it clear they'll be back. All five supervisors seemed intent on getting with their constituents' program.
the Rev. Penny Nixon, Congregational Church of San Mateo

Monday, June 18, 2018

Their cries echo to the heavens ...

The investigative reporting group ProPublica provides this audio from within a Border Patrol detention facility. Whoever made and smuggled out the recording passed it to civil rights attorney Jennifer Harbury -- a name long familiar to many North Americans concerned with human rights in Central America. Harbury's Guatemalan husband was tortured to death in his home country in the 1980s by paid CIA informants.

Those of us in the US who worked for justice and peace in the Americas have always feared the misdeeds of the United States would come home. They have -- and are visited on the children.

A call to reunite children with parents

Laura Bush (you know, George W.'s wife) calls out border cruelty.

Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.

Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.

Read it all -- and then find a Families Belong Together demonstration for human decency near you.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Pure evil

Jesuit Father James Martin calls the Trump border policy what it is. (I've transcribed a series of tweets here.)

Like many, I've resisted using this word but it's time: the deliberate and unnecessary separation of innocent children from their parents is pure evil.

It does not come from God or from any genuinely moral impulse. It is wantonly cruel and targets the most vulnerable.

Its use has been cloaked in lies, another clear sign that it does not proceed in any way from God or from a genuinely moral impulse. And the results--misery, anguish, physical suffering, division and despair--are also unmistakable signs that this is an evil.

As St. Paul wrote, "You will know them by their fruits....every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit." (Mt 7:17). That is, the results enable us to clearly recognize evil. As such, we have a moral obligation to name it and fight against it.

Anyone who participates in this kind of wanton cruelty is also guilty of this evil. "I was just following orders" went out at Nuremberg. The decision-makers and all who cooperate in these actions will be judged.

"I was a stranger and you did not welcome me." (Mt 25)


Father's Day

Here's my father, alongside his father, on a Buffalo winter day, just over 100 years ago in 1919. Both of them lost that ramrod posture as they aged.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

San Francisco: a little bit of alright

Before the June 5 election completely slips down the memory hole, it's worth noting that 69 percent of city residents voted to ban flavored tobacco products. That's impressive, considering that the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company spend $12 million on defeating Prop. E. In the days before the election, we were all deluged in No on E mailers claiming that barring sale of bubble gum flavored vaping products was the new prohibition. Just about every corner market displayed a No on E sign.

The tobacco companies are working hard to expand their market.

“To Juul (the brand has become a verb) is to inhale nicotine free from the seductively disgusting accoutrements of a cigarette: the tar, the carbon monoxide, the garbage mouth, the smell,” writes the New Yorker‘s Jia Tolentino, of the San Francisco-based product Juul, a sleek vaporizer that looks like a flash drive. They come in eight flavors, like Fruit Medley and Cr├Ęme Br├╗l├ęe, cost about $16 for a pack of four pods, and, as such, have become increasingly popular among teens.

One in six high school students currently use e-cigarettes, according to one estimate from the Department of Health and Human Services. As of March, Juul represented more than half of the e-cigarette retail market, a lucrative market expected to reach $48 billion by 2023.

Their elders, so many of whom struggled to get over tobacco addition in their time, said "no way" in our city.
Whatever Big Tobacco claimed, this was a vote against child endangerment for profit.

Friday, June 15, 2018

What the rules do for us

Josh Marshall is actually reading and absorbing this new Justice Department Inspector General's report that condemns former FBI director James Comey's self-referential and consequential misbehavior in reference to the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails. (No surprise that Comey screwed up there.) Marshall pulls a long quote from career DOJ Prosecutor, George Toscas:

One of the things that I tell people all the time, after having been in the Department for almost 24 years now, is I stress to people and people who work at all levels, the institution has principles and there’s always an urge when something important or different pops up to say, we should do it differently or those principles or those protocols you know we should—we might want to deviate because this is so different. But the comfort that we get as people, as lawyers, as representatives, as employees and as an institution, the comfort we get from those institutional policies, protocols, has, is an unbelievable thing through whatever storm, you know whatever storm hits us, when you are within the norm of the way the institution behaves, you can weather any of it because you stand on the principle.

And once you deviate, even in a minor way, and you’re always going to want to deviate. It’s always going to be something important and some big deal that makes you think, oh let’s do this a little differently. But once you do that, you have removed yourself from the comfort of saying this institution has a way of doing things and then every decision is another ad hoc decision that may be informed by our policy and our protocol and principles, but it’s never going to be squarely within them.

This is the same lesson that Trump administration abuses remind us of. Decent institutions require rules. Those rules may feel as if they constrain unnecessarily; they may seem inadequate to some emergency. But in longstanding institutions that have survived and improved over time (like, say, our imperfect democracy), rules should constrain us.

That's true, even if a President doesn't think he needs or must abide by any rules or laws. Bulldozing through norms may work for awhile, but that kind of success doesn't endure. The norm breaker may not personally pay the price, but those around him and his enablers will. And so will the country he is betraying.

Friday cat blogging

I'm getting to be an older gent. Can I really do it? Can I?

It's so tempting. I'll just throw myself up there ...

Morty treats the insulated attic crawl space as his private playground. I sure hope he never gets in trouble up there, because I sure can't follow to rescue him.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Dear Leader lords it over his captives

This image is from within a Border Patrol concentration camp for migrant children in a Walmart in Brownsville Texas. A former employee in the privatized children's prison system along our southern border described what he could no longer do:

Colleagues at a government-contracted shelter in Arizona had a specific request for Antar Davidson when three Brazilian migrant children arrived: “Tell them they can’t hug.”

Davidson, 32, is of Brazilian descent and speaks Portuguese. He said the siblings — ages 16, 10 and 6 — were distraught after being separated from their parents at the border. The children were “huddled together, tears streaming down their faces,” he said.

Officials had told them their parents were “lost,” which they interpreted to mean dead. Davidson said he told the children he didn’t know where their parents were, but that they had to be strong.

“The 16-year-old, he looks at me and says, ‘How?’” Davidson said. As he watched the youth cry, he thought, “This is not healthy.”

No, it is not healthy. The authors of this abuse, the Sessions and Nielsens and Homans, are the criminals.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What some South Koreans think ...

After all, Koreans are the ones in the immediate line of fire. They are the ones who have been separated from kinfolk for nearly 70 years.

According to E. Tammy Kim, writing from Seoul for the New Yorker:

Koreans see the Singapore summit not just as another sensational episode in the story of Donald Trump but as a step away from a sixty-eight-year-old unfinished war. In South Korea, in all but the most reactionary circles, there is a sense of ethnic solidarity with the North and some longing for unity. Support for President Moon, who is seen widely as the catalyst for this sudden thaw of relations between North Korea and the world, remains high. (Local elections, though overshadowed by the summit, take place on Wednesday in South Korea. Support for Moon’s party, generally, has also remained high, and voters will have a chance to express their confidence at the ballot box.) I’ve yet to meet a single Korean who isn’t willing to express optimism, in some form, about the prospects for peace and reunification. ...

... Lee Soo-jung, an anthropologist at Duksung Women’s University, acknowledged the painful “historical irony” of benefitting from Trump. In a fairer world, she tells me, “The citizens of the world would be able to vote for the U.S. President.” ...

... After the summit, [South Korean President Moon Jae-in] issued a short statement congratulating the U.S. and North Korea on a “successful” and “historic” meeting, praising Trump for his initiative and promising to work toward inter-Korean peace. South Koreans do not trust Kim or Trump, or believe in the possibility of a quick reunification. They are simply aware of the toll that seventy years of national division have taken, and are eager for an alternative future.

How many people around the world must have felt that they, too, deserved to have the chance to vote on U.S. presidents -- since the North American elephant might crush the life out of them with an accidental or unconsidered misstep?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trump's video trailer for his nothingburger summit

Much of the media finds this weird video apparently gifted from Trump to Kim simply dumbfounding. I don't.

A story: years ago, when I was doing some consulting on organizational effectiveness for the ACLU, I had the sad duty of researching and explaining one of the facts of life to the civil liberties groups' brilliant director. According the best opinion studies, about 16 percent of citizens thought TV cop dramas were documentaries, literally true. (Obviously these folks had no personal experience of police or courts.) This phony film is for these same people. I doubt if it will occur to polling and marketing companies to inquire, but it is aimed at the segment of the population who will believe it. They exist.

What if democracy and individual freedom seem incompatible?

How to begin describing political scientist Yascha Mounk's The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It? On the one hand, many US readers will have to work to adjust to unfamiliar uses of familiar words which are at the core of Mounk's argument. On the other hand, once we get the definitions down, this is a very clearly written and highly accessible survey of trends all over the world that certainly seem hostile to polities that value human freedom. So -- here are Mounk's core definitions:

  • a democracy is a set of binding electoral institutions that effectively translate popular views into public policy
  • Liberal institutions effectively protect the rule of law and individual rights such as freedom of speech, etc ...
  • a liberal democracy is simply a political system that is both liberal and democratic -- one that both protects individual rights and translates popular views into public policy

One additional definition is necessary to understand Mounk's book: by populism he means movements that see legitimacy and power as emanating solely from majorities of the people. These movements have no respect for the technocratic, legal, and institutionalist organizational forms that elites (and majorities in less fraught times) uphold. Populism can refer to movements either loosely of the left or vaguely of the right. In US history (not much discussed by Mounk who is a newly naturalized US citizen, formerly German) western farmers rebelling against the banks and gold standard in the 1890s were lefty populists -- as were the followers of demagogic Louisiana governor Huey Long during the Depression of the 1930s. Donald Trump is a right populist in our familiar categories.

In this book, the author demonstrates that liberal democracy loses legitimacy all over the world because, for many people, the democratic part of the equation -- voting, parties and candidates -- don't seem to deliver what they promise: much impact on outcomes people want in their daily lives. What populists -- like Donald Trump -- do is weaponize people's frustration with the failures of the system against the very institutions that make democracy liberal: higher education, regulatory bodies, science, courts, lawyers, etc.. Populist pols substitute the One True Leader for all those complex social mechanisms and claim "I alone can fix it."Hence

"an honest leader -- one who shares the pure outlook of the people and is willing to fight on their behalf -- needs to win high office ... once this honest leader is charge, he needs to abolish the institutional roadblocks that might stop him from carrying out the will of the people."

For the populist, the institutional roadblocks are the political system of law and justice itself. I find this description of what US democracy is up against in the Trump regime clear, compelling, and chilling. Mounk provides readable documentation from survey research and electoral examples all over the world.

So what would be necessary for liberal democracy to satisfy the people, thereby defanging the populist menace? Mounk suggests three areas where he sees contemporary democratic failure. Unconstrained economic elites are seizing for themselves more and more of the wealth of the nation and mature economies offer very little in the way of "trickle down." Increasing racial and national diversity among the people is easily blamed for the specter of scarcity. Promoting the notion of racial, cultural, or even gender "enemies" serves to divide minorities from the "real" citizens. And modern communication media lend themselves to obfuscation, conspiracy theories, and lies.

"Once upon a time, liberal democracies could assure their citizens of a very rapid increase in their living standards. Now, they no longer can. Once upon a time, political elites controlled the most important means of a communication, and could effectively exclude radical views from the public sphere. Now, political outsiders can spread lies and hatred with abandon. And once upon a time, the homogeneity of their citizens -- or at least a steep racial hierarchy -- was a big part of what held liberal democracies together. Now, citizens have to learn to live in a much more equal and diverse democracy.

I found Mounk utterly convincing on the economic aspects of the democratic predicament. He is not steeped in the history of workers' movements; but he is a European social democrat and he knows economic theft when he sees it.

On "fake news" I resist thinking this is a technological problem; every communication advance (think printing Bibles in the vernacular for example!) has eventually been absorbed by its culture without overthrowing all access to truth -- though the process can be long, violent, and fraught.

And I found Mounk a little shallow on race, immigration, and culture; on this, a perspective grounded in consciousness of white supremacy as the US national original sin needs to be front and center to combat Trump's xenophobic nationalism. Like so many academics, his appreciation of this feels a little less heartfelt than his economic analysis.

So what does Mounk propose to people who want to defeat contemporary populism? He's got quite a catalogue. First and foremost, and somewhat unexpectedly for an academic, he says we have to be ready to go out in the streets. He cites the example of South Korea whose current government is one that was elected because the people demanded the ouster of a corrupt predecessor. Resistance can work.

... while the work of resistance is undoubtedly cumbersome, most political scientists do believe it can make life difficult for populist governments: the painstaking work of opposition can call attention to unpopular policies; slow the progress of pending legislation; embolden judges to strike down unconstitutional laws; provide support to embattled media outlets; change the calculus for moderates within the regime; and force international governments and organizations to put pressure on a would-be dictator.

He urges as much unity as possible in opposition; when facing a populist demagogue, we can't afford nonessential divisions. Of course discriminating among unlikely allies is not easy. He points to currents in contemporary civic education that he says we can't afford right now:

... an exclusive focus on today's injustices is no more intellectually honest than an unthinking exhortation of the greatness of western civilization.

He thinks we have to make peace with some kind of patriotism; the ugly sort of nationalism might be softened with more respect for the value of attachments to history and place. He applauds Obama's address at the 50th anniversary of the Selma civil rights march as an example.

I hope I have not made this book seem dry or academic. Though thoroughly documented and impressively broad ranging, it is well written and easy to read. I don't agree entirely with a lot in it, but I found it even more useful for thinking about our democratic predicament than I had hoped.

Mounk's work against demagogic populism is readily available at two other venues. He writes a regular column at Slate, The Good Fight. The article I've linked to describes growing populism in Canada. And he produces a podcast of the same name, some episodes of which are better than others.

Monday, June 11, 2018

On impeding monsters

Here's a rather well done video on what smart resistance looks like when a man mistakes himself for a king.

When nonviolent resistance reaches a critical mass of 3.5% of the population, authoritarian rulers fall.

Nonviolent resistance is hard, because your side is volunteering to take the casualties. But there is good evidence that it works better, especially in the aftermath, than any other tactic.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Echoes of mid-20th century Europe

Read Liz Goodwin's full story of what our racist president's men are doing at the border. The goons executing Trump-Kelly-Nielsen-Sessions "orders" belong in jail, as do the thugs giving the orders. How low we sink!

Take it from a sports writer

This is resistance. Sally Jenkins, who covers sports for the Washington Post, explains how to resist President Trump.

The Philadelphia Eagles beat President Trump. They slipped the punch, and he wound up swinging so hard at the air that he fell on his face. It’s a useful lesson, a timeless one even.

When you’re up against a crotch-kicker and an eye-gouger, what do you do? NFL owners confronted that question and decided the best strategy was to try to placate, and they got leg-whipped for it. It was entirely their own fault for deciding that a president who called their players sons of bitches somehow would play by their rules. The Eagles were smarter. They understood that an eye-gouger counts on an adversary who will come in close.

A crotch-kicker needs an opponent. Without one, what is he? Without a race to bait, without someone to accuse, without a target to lash out at, what can he do? When there is no one to scapegoat or to scream spittle at, then what? He has to stand there and try to look and be presidential. That’s what the Eagles understood when most decided not to go to the White House and shake his hand ...

... most people aren’t Steph[Curry] or LeBron [James] or [Muhammed] Ali. So when confronted with someone who practices startling, uncalled-for aggression, they don’t know what to do. When someone comes at you harder than they should, the critical thing is not to break the rules yourself because you will break the game. It’s among the most immortal and true principles of any contest: Overreacting will cost only yourself, and all will be lost.

True excellence is not just about the vicious deployment of force, but the control and parrying of it without losing yourself, your honor, your conception of what’s most important and who you want to be in this contest and this world. Don’t let someone else’s breaking of the rules break you down. Don’t let them turn something ugly that shouldn’t be and that you don’t want to be. Step out of the way. And wait.

[As Muhammad Ali demonstrated while fighting George Foreman,] ... the rope will take the strain.

The G-7 leaders might learn from this. If Trump wants to trash the system that brings them together, politely meet without him. He needs a time out. He won't like that.

Read and enjoy the entire Jenkins column.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Sidewalks speak in the Mission

Here we have dueling messages:


Several days later, one side has painted out all ambiguity.
This does not make me happy. The newcomers in tech employment are here. They are now part of us, of San Francisco as it is today. Yes, they are frequently oblivious to who and what their infusion of cash and commerce has displaced. Sometimes that unconsciousness can be rude, racist, hateful. And more often it is just dumb insensitivity. But they are here. They are us. We, oldtimers who remain, need to interact with the new us and as much as possible come to see each other as neighbors.

The sidewalk wars seem pretty historically oblivious themselves. I've been here since 1972. For at least my first 20 years in the neighborhood, we queers were the rude, gentrifying, interlopers in the view of some of the community. Somehow, often by fighting alongside each other against police abuses and housing rip-offs, we learned to acknowledge and tolerate each other even if we remained culturally apart.

Not all the current residents are going to be driven out. Not all the techies are Mark Zuckerberg. Not all the techies are white. Neither are all the queers. We have to figure out what we can do together to make San Francisco a place where we can all live. We're stuck with each other.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Been there, done that, don't need to do it again

One of the frustrations of the Trump regime is that very few East Coast-based political commentators seem aware that California has already lived through its season of extreme white fragility in response to demographic change. We went through this in the 1990s when an overwhelmingly white electorate tried every imaginative stratagem panicked white people could come up with to try to stem the rising black/brown/Asian-origin tide. We tried by initiative to deny public services to immigrants, to keep the emerging majority out of state-funded higher education, and to lock away offending adults and even juveniles as long as possible.

And then, finally, people of color got active and many white people calmed down, and we became a state that looks forward, not backward. We have our problems, but they are new ones, not the same old same old.

One of the good features of political scientist Yascha Mounk's The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It is that he does notice that California has made itself different.

... Once areas grow accustomed to the reality of a multiethnic society, they may find their fears do not materialize -- and they become less anxious about a continuing process of change.

The experience of California seems to suggest that this ... optimistic interpretation holds true in some places. From 1980 to 1990, the overall share of the foreign-born population rose from 15 perecent to 22 percent. A great wave of anxiety washed over the state. Many native-born Californians were disoriented by the rapid pace of change, and grew furious that politicians were willing to accommodate the cultures and languages of immigrants. ...

... At the time, observers were understandably worried about the future of race relations in California. But in the 2000s and 2010s, the fever somehow broke. Most Californians grew comfortable with the fact that high levels of immigration were a part of the local experience, and the state had become "majority minority." As a result, the state is now known as one of the most tolerant in the country. Over the past years, Californians have reversed many of the draconian laws they had passed by referendum two decades earlier with strong support from white voters. ...

Hence #Notmypresident and #Resistance. We don't want to go back over that terrain. We're done with allowing white fears to define the possible. Can the California pattern be replicated nationwide? Not exactly, but it shouldn't be ignored either.

I'll be writing a more comprehensive post about Mounk's book when I get through some other tasks, but wanted to highlight what is a rare insight in the literature of Trump-time and democratic decline.