Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Learn from an expert

Generation Lockdown tells the story.

In my grade school, it was pamphlets from the state governor urging families to build fallout shelters. Some people my age never recovered from being taught to dive under desks when the nuclear bombing came ...

The suggestion that we support background checks on gun purchases seems wildly inadequate to the threat. But March for Our Lives is effectively carrying the long struggle and deserves respect!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Great news this morning

Three of the wisest leaders we have around -- Alicia Garza, Ai-Jen Poo, and Cecile Richards -- have put themselves forward, launching a initiative to build power that we won't live without.

Let's have their backs. Sign up. I did.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Presidential primary values signaling season

Kelsey Piper at Vox reports that "Cory Booker is winning the charity primary." That is, among the Democratic presidential primary candidates, his tax returns show him way out in front of the others, having given away some 15 percent of his income in 2018.

Business Insider reported on Thursday that Booker donated $24,000 of his $152,639 income in 2018 to charity. And over the past 10 years, CNN reports that Booker has given about $460,000 to charity.

None of the others come close; only Elizabeth Warren exceeds 5 percent to philanthropy, barely. All these candidates have average incomes over $200K. It's probably worth mentioning that Booker is both childless and unpartnered.

Piper goes on to point out that we don't now what nonprofit entities Booker or any of them gave to -- and that many 501c3 outfits aren't the greatest value for money. She suggests that a charity evaluation outfit like Givewell provides the best evaluator for charitable contributions. I find that a little problematic in this context, since Givewell is a sponsor of Vox podcasts -- which she doesn't disclose. But also, having looked into Givewell, I found its insistence on big measurable impacts -- sort of an engineering evaluation approach to charity -- misses something about how giving impacts societies, recipients, and even the donors. Sometimes there is a value in smaller donations that amounts to an affirmation of a community or an intent that can't be entirely captured in the count of malaria nets distributed.

Piper goes on:

[The contributions politicians] make as senators, Congress members, and governors are of far greater altruistic significance than where they donate. Booker’s 2018 donations, if he had given to the most cost-effective, high-impact charities, could at most have saved several lives; as a senator, he affects hundreds of millions of them.

That's true, of course.

But I think Piper is missing what is going on in this stage of the presidential primary and hence the reason we pour over politicians' tax returns when they release them. Most of them are spewing out policy proposals vigorously, on healthcare provision, family support, economic and even racial justice. If we think about the broken state of our political system, we quickly realize that few of these policies will survive the sausage grinder that is Congressional process. We take these offerings as signals of what sort of society their proponents want and, from that, what sort of values animate this or that candidate. We're in a signaling season when we try to discern the character of the aspirants. Our superficial glance at pols' tax returns and charitable giving habits are another part of the signaling. Booker gets some credit here for generosity; that should count -- alongside, as yet another factor -- in a broad analysis of who we want for the Democratic presidential choice.

This post is not any kind of endorsement. I am holding fire and writing here about the coverage, not the candidates, for awhile. Eventually I'll throw down for one of them when Californian votes, knowing that I'd work to elect any of them in November 2020.

All necessary trouble ahead

A few weeks ago I had privilege of hearing a reportback by young people from the University of San Francisco's Black Living-Learning Community on their visits to the major sites of 1950s and 60s civil rights struggles. They returned both shaken, energized, and inspired -- very likely changed for life.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank writes of the impact in this moment of leading his children on a similar pilgrimage.
From my removed vantage point on the civil rights trail, the Mueller report offered reasons for hope. ... Like the hotheaded [Sheriff Bull] Connor and [Sheriff Jim] Clark, whose clumsy responses to civil disobedience turned public opinion against them, the erratic Trump weakens his own cause.

We hear in Trump a refined version of Connor and Clark and George Wallace as he exploits racial fears that have always been with us. This time, it’s a fear of immigrants and minorities trying to “take away our history and our heritage,” as Trump says, leaving the “culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues” of Confederate heroes.

John Lewis stood against such ideas when he faced Clark’s thugs in 1965. I stand with Lewis today when he promises to cause all “necessary trouble” to face down Trump. “Whatever he tries to do, he cannot take us back,” Lewis says. “During the next few weeks and months and next year, there will be some setbacks. But the American people are not going back.”
Congressman John Lewis

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Seen in the 'hood

This sidewalk illustration comports with what Gallup is reporting: "Americans Are Some of the Most Stressed-Out People in the World, a New Global Survey Says."

The Gallup report, in keeping with prior studies, found that younger Americans (defined in the report as those between the ages of 15 and 49) were the most likely to feel stressed, worried or angry. The American Psychological Association in 2018 found that Generation Z is the most stressed-out age group due to factors such as violence, political turmoil, finances and health. And Millennials and Gen Z are known to have disproportionately high rates of anxiety, loneliness and depression, which can be tied to stress.

Yup, that's who is living around here these days.

The SOL Cat echoes the common personal ad restriction "no fats;no friends" while "frisco forever" could be gang graffiti or agressive local pride.

Here in the Mission, even the graffiti is political ...

when it's not an affirmation of love and comfort.

All from the Mission over the most recent month.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Friday cat blogging

Morty has been under the weather lately, but he still looks for comfort from his human staff.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Nevada going green

That election we all worked so hard to swing Democratic in 2018 in Nevada keeps on delivering. Here's Nevada's new governor Steve Sisolak signing a bill banning fossil fuel generated electricity by 2050.
Scads of Californians didn't come to California to work in the state governor race; we wanted another Democratic senator and helped Jacky Rosen win. But since our union sponsors in UniteHERE endorsed Sisolak (try training canvassers to pronounce SISOLAK), we carried his name to thousands of voters and helped Nevadans send this Democrat to the state capital.

The new law just signed:

sets a goal of getting all of the Silver State’s power from carbon-free sources by 2050 and requires 50 percent of its supply to come from renewables by 2030, according to an e-mailed statement.

Nevada becomes the fourth U.S. state to commit to 100 percent clean energy, joining its bigger neighbor California as well as Hawaii and New Mexico.

Bloomberg, April 22, 2019

H/t Grist.

Our pointless war without end

I cannot leave this unremarked. After 18 years of the U.S. making war in Afghanistan, ostensibly with the purpose of rooting out murderous local terrorist factions, the U.N. finds that we and the hapless "government" we prop up have pulled into the lead in killing civilians.

KABUL, Afghanistan — For the first time since the United Nations began documenting civilian casualties in Afghanistan a decade ago, more civilians are being killed by Afghan government and American forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents, according to a report on Wednesday.

... quarterly numbers may reflect an increasing reliance on airstrikes in a war in which Afghan security forces tend to hunker down in fortified bases rather than mount aggressive assaults against Taliban fighters. When attacked, Afghan forces often call for airstrikes by the American-trained Afghan Air Force to dislodge the enemy.

Aerial operations were the third-highest cause of civilian casualties, killing 145 civilians and wounding 83 during the quarter — a 41 percent increase for those type of casualties compared with the same quarter in 2018. The report attributed almost all of those casualties to American airstrikes.

“A shocking number of civilians continue to be killed and maimed each day,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the United Nations secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement. “All parties must do more to safeguard civilians.”

New York Times, April 24, 2019

The article goes on to report that 2018 was the deadliest year for civilians since the U.N. began counting in 2009. This is not getting better. There are 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 18 years of fruitless war.

I'm totally prepared to grant that the U.S. military is (mostly) not trying to kill non-combatants. But what are they supposed to accomplish in this endless, failed war?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Just for fun

Running along the Bay this morning south of Coyote Point, I noticed a few Canada geese where I expect only egrets and sea gulls. The world-champion grass processors are spreading out, I mused. I have years of experience running through crowds of Canada geese around Lake Merritt and near Crown Beach.

This engrossing video explains how we came to be overrun by Canada geese. Enjoy.

Much more here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Are some people too old to run for president?

A few weeks ago, Robert G. Kaiser, a former managing editor of The Washington Post, broached this quasi-taboo question. He is 76. He asks:

Can politicians our age be effective presidents?

Good journalist that he is, he queried academics who study old people. A couple of comments:

  • “If talking about someone’s age is taboo and we are immediately accused of ageism, then that shuts down the discourse,” argues Jennifer Sasser, 52, a gerontologist at Oregon State University. A 70-year-old candidate “will have 20 more years of lived experience than a 50-year-old, and that translates not only into potential expertise but also a richer mind,” Sasser says. But “you can’t stay at the height of your capacity forever. That’s not the trajectory. We do become less energetic. Our bodies and minds do change.”
  • “Age per se should not disqualify a candidate,” says Denise C. Park, 67, a psychologist who founded the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Older brains are packed with knowledge and experiences that may constitute ‘wisdom’ and would help a president perform well in office,” she said, but she added that age obviously brings certain costs, “specifically in their capacity for quick processing of new information, remembering details, and the ability to process and use new information.” ... “All brains show some degradation over time, but the fact that older people have degraded brains does not necessarily mean [they have] less useful mental skills,” she observed. “The additional knowledge and experience that comes with age may compensate for this.”

My friend Ronni Bennett whose blog on aging is essential reading for anyone who cares about old people or is one, threw the issue open to her very smart, very generous, comment section. Two sage responses:

  • During the last presidential campaign, I kept asking how Trump and Clinton could keep up the pace of campaigning at their ages. My husband answered, "They have staff."
  • Some people maintain a high level of mental functioning into their 80s and 90s. {May I be so fortunate!} Nobody maintains a high level of physical function so late in life.

I come to the question from the experience last fall of working on an election while 71. This was not running for office, but facilitating one tiny cog in the complex human machine that is a successful campaign. Nothing short of going to war or possibly professional athletic competition requires more concentrated focus and aggressive implementation than executing a campaign well.

I've spent decades doing this work at various levels of campaign hierarchy and I knew what was needed from me. I was happy to discover that I could still do it. I didn't lose details, could switch gears on a dime when needed, and retained the ability to see bottlenecks coming and evade them. I trust that those with whom I worked found me a useful addition to the project.

And after we won, I was drained. That's normal. But recovery from a campaign used to take me a four to six weeks. This time it took months; I may not be quite recovered yet.

A person over age 70 who ran for president would indeed have staff. But nonetheless, the U.S. president performs one of the most intense, multi-faceted, political jobs in world while surrounded by a cacophony of demanding friends and a mob of hostile detractors. I question whether any of us who have reached a certain age could sustain our performance at peak level under these demands. (The current incumbent seems to be dealing with the impossible job by doing as little as possible except ignorant tweeting and incitement of hatred.)

A younger person may not have the accumulated wisdom we hope we gain as we age. But that younger person will also be a native to the culture and context in which we now live. For those of us over 70, the native culture of our youth was family memories of our parents' experience of the Great Depression and European fascism, followed by the Cold War, fear of the Bomb, the immoral war on Vietnam, and the vast social upheavals resulting from Black, brown, and many women's freedom struggles. All that is ancient history now, even for the youngest Boomers like Barack Obama.

As the abolitionist James Russell Lowell wrote in a previous era of change: "new occasions teach new duties." It's peak season for people who came up after Reagan and the GOPers freed predatory capitalism from social welfare constraints, after the end of the Cold War, after 9/11, after Abu Ghraib, after the 2008 Great Recession, after the world was enlarged and infected by digital media, after going to college meant taking on debt for decades, after the country was primed to be conned by a greedy, immoral TV cartoon character.

I want a president who is native to this time, to now. And that come close to cutting out the Democratic aspirants who are over 70, even if I feel aligned with them. Of course I'll work to elect whoever emerges from the nomination process, but sadly, too many of these candidates look to me too old for the job.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Working just the way it's supposed to ...

the Republican plan to sabotage access to health care, that is.

While many citizens were distracted by the Mueller Report, Easter, Passover, and 4/20, the Congressional Budget Office tells us that about 1.4 million more people were uninsured in 2018 than in 2017.

According to Sarah Kliff at Vox, all the GOP noise about repealing Obamacare has convinced many citizens that the program no longer exists -- she cites one poll where 31 percent believed that. It stands to reason you are not going to sign up for something you don't think is available, especially as the Trump administration has cut funding for public service ads.

And that's without the work requirements imposed on Medicaid recipients under Health and Human Services department regulatory waivers; these create a mountain of paper work and reporting requirements more likely to trip up and frustrate ordinary, over-stressed people than to catch cheats.

Republicans still have the same health care plan they've always had: if you aren't rich, go die.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Jesus is not here ...

The tomb is empty. The one who was crucified is not here.

The dominion of death is no more.

Christ is risen ... Hope does not die ... Love lives ... Alleluia

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Earth Day 2019

Crazy, corny, happy exhortation for a crazy humanity. Enjoy and live on.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Of human rights and social rights

Samuel Moyn's Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World is a sophisticated historical argument for the thesis stated in its title. His introduction explains:

No one ought to be treated differently because of the kind of person they are -- on the basis of gender or race, for example. ... When it comes to what share people ought to get of the good things in life, however, consensus is much harder to achieve. ...

Moyn contrasts "human rights" -- claims for equal treatment for all varieties of humanity -- with "economic and social rights" which imply a moral imperative for distributional equality.

This is a history of western (particularly European) "rights" theories, practices, and agitation, beginning with the brief Jacobin "welfare state" which acquired a second act in the post-Great Depression and socially mobilized states that emerged from World War II. Notions of distributive justice that emerged there, and in the New International Economic Order championed by the decolonized states of Asia, Africa and Latin America, have given way to a dominant market fundamentalism -- neoliberalism -- which allows at its best for social provision of minimum sufficiency and anti-poverty charity. Through contemporary elites' choice to focus on "human rights -- equality before the law which includes the right to sleep under bridges -- the ever-urgent, unending, human quest for a just society has been deflected and then buried. Or so Moyn argues.

This is a potent case. I can look at the same evidence, read the same texts, study the history, and arrive at the similar conclusions, though perhaps with slightly different emphases. Yet I am uncomfortable leaving it there.

Perhaps this is because, from the life experience of a woman of non-standard sexuality, despite enjoying always the material fact of more-than-enough, it's hard for me to feel that society's concession of my full humanity is a minor gain. In the parts of the world where white men still call the tune -- and that is most of the world -- my kind still face an existential struggle over the definition of "human." This doesn't go away. How much more fierce might that struggle feel to those who are "non-white"?

Moyn knows justice is not simple; he's retrieving what he thinks we have suppressed -- and he's not wrong to want to raise it up. From his conclusion:

Human rights became our highest ideals only as material hierarchy remained endemic or worsened. It was both a breakthrough of conscience and an immense reversal. Human rights emerged as the highest morality of an unequal world ... Human rights will return to their defensible importance only as soon as humanity saves itself from its low ambitions. If it does, for the sake of local and global welfare, sufficiency and equality can again become powerful companions, both in our moral lives and in our political enterprises.

This is not the sort of stuff that gets us to the barricades -- but perhaps this is necessary intellectual armament for a long march.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Arizona on my mind

Yesterday an update and fundraising appeal from the ACLU dropped in my email. By random chance I happened to open it (can't open 'em all.) As per usual, the ACLU is doing vital work.

In this case, the legal eagles are challenging an attempt by Arizona legislators to bar participation in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement "to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law." The details are intricate as they often are, but according to the ACLU, this seems the crux:

Last year, an Arizona federal court blocked the state from enforcing its anti-boycott law, ruling that the law — which requires government contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank — violates the First Amendment.

Can't do that. BDS is a non-violent response to violent oppression, well within anyone in this country's free speech rights.

The case reminded me that Arizona has a history with boycotts -- boycotts of Arizona. The state was the target of a boycott when it legislated against the Martin Luther King day holiday; Phoenix lost a scheduled Super Bowl in 1993 over that one. Legislators learned that boycotts can hurt. Arizona attracted another high profile boycott in 2010 when it passed a law which directed local law enforcement to question people's immigration status, incentivizing racial profiling.

But the Arizona boycott law I remember vividly from personal experience was the state's attempt to outlaw the efforts of the United Farm Workers Union to organize in 1972. The UFW was profoundly dependent on support from urban liberals across the country for boycotts of grapes and lettuce in support of the people in the fields. (In fact it may have been far better at this tactic than at actually attracting and holding worker support.) Media suggested overzealous Arizona sheriffs were stopping and harassing motorists whose cars bore the then-ubiquitous bumpersticker "Boycott Grapes." Approaching the state while driving cross-country that spring with a carload of UFW vets, we wondered, should we remove our stickers? We didn't and had no problem. After all, we were all white.

These days, Arizona is yet another state where urbanization and demography are ever-so-slowly pulling the state away from its racist conservative past. Will the change be reflected in its politics, if not in 2020, perhaps in the next decade?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

We elected some good ones in 2018

Here Congresswoman Katie Porter schools JPMorganChase billionaire Jamie Dimon on life in the low-wage world his corporation has built.

Porter flipped California's District 45 around Irvine last fall. Erudite Partner reports she uses the same home economics lesson Porter uses here with Dimon with her University of San Francisco undergrads.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

If you've got the 2019 blues, you are not alone

“Voters are still in the dating phase.” Democratic consultant Brian Brokaw

It would be wonderful if the Democratic presidential primary season were offering us all a chance to think about where we'd like the country to go and what policies would get us there.

But in truth, most people I know can't. The upcoming presidential election might well be our last chance to reclaim a democratic (small "d"), passably equitable, reasonably honest -- not to mention climatically stable -- future. The Republicans and their Orange-maned leader must be defeated -- or we believe, with plenty of evidence, the country is simply fucked.

And so, among the small minority paying attention, the primary campaign elicits anxiety that verges on terror rather than hope. Sure, we all pulled together and mostly kicked butt in the 2018 midterms, but can we really do it in 2020?

Because people think I know something about politics, I get asked all the time about the 2020 race and the candidates. I'm not stating any preferences. I'll have some I'm sure, but I'll work for anyone the Democrats nominate. Even the most mealy-mouthed and compromised among of them would give the country a better shot at equity and justice than Trump. And I have very little patience for anyone who can't get their head around that fact. There's not a chance this will be easy.

A few pundits have offered observations on the primary that seem worth passing on. Anyone who has actually canvassed among ordinary voters knows that most of them have far less developed political opinions and preferences than we, the political junkies. This sort of thing doesn't consume their lives and often they make the electoral choices they make far more out of instinct and feeling than careful weighing of policy stances. That goes double for primary voting. Political scientist David A. Hopkins studies presidential primaries:

A reliable rule of thumb about nomination politics is that when voters are required to make an electoral choice among multiple candidates within the same party, their preferences will be relatively weak, unpredictable, based on limited information, and open to change up until the moment they cast their ballots.

It can be easy to impose a clever and plausible-sounding analytical structure on the process in advance, or to explain in retrospect why one candidate won more support than another. But in the midst of the action, there is plenty about nominations that resists straightforward interpretation or forecasting. And the larger the field of contenders, the more complicated things get.

That is, don't believe everything you read; it may, or may not, have any factual basis.

Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman warns about another peril for primary voters -- overthinking.

... there’s something inherently problematic in making judgments about electability. That’s not just because people are usually pretty bad at it, but also because it means that instead of deciding which candidate you like, you’ll base your vote on which  candidate you think other people will like.

... But no matter how much you might want to defeat Trump, it’s a much better idea to think about which candidate you like, rather than try to predict which candidate might be able to appeal to some white guy sitting in a diner in Waukesha, Wis. That seldom ends well.

We all need to take our best shot in the primary, and then put our shoulders to the wheel in 2020, working as if our lives and the lives of those we love depend on the outcome. It might.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Of immigration judges, judging, and FUBAR systems

If we have to have immigration judges -- and we probably do for the foreseeable future -- let's hope that any reform supported by Democrats is along the lines outlined by Dana Leigh Marks. Judge Marks sits on the immigration bench in San Francisco and is president emerita of the National Association of Immigration Judges. I watched Judge Marks conduct a bond hearing for a detained immigrant facing deportation one day and was pleasantly surprised by her combination of seriousness, professionalism, and compassion.

At present, immigration courts are the stepchildren of the Department of Justice, understaffed, underfunded, and subject to pressures from political bosses. Judge Marks writes it doesn't have to be that way.

... we need to be free to be independent judges, not be monitored and rated like assembly-line workers. We must be allowed to use our expertise to decide our cases without interference. The current structure detracts from due process and makes people doubt the fairness of the courts we preside over. We need skilled, experienced, neutral managers who understand how to run a court and make transparency, independence and public access paramount — not administrators who want to keep the trains running on time above all else.

A number of lawyers’ organizations and scholars agree, and endorse the creation of an Article I Immigration Court. It would free our courts from the political influences of both the Justice and Homeland Security departments and the political whims of each new administration. It would allow a reliable funding stream from Congress to assure we have the resources needed to address our burgeoning caseload in a timely manner. It would mean that neutral judges would use their skills to make the rules and assure a level playing field for all. An independent immigration court will be an efficient and effective court that provides an example to the world of the superiority of the American justice system. We can and must fix this fatal flaw now.

An Article I (of the Constitution) court can be created by Congress for a specific purpose outside, but alongside, the regular federal judiciary created by Article III.

A victorious Democratic chief executive should offer Judge Marks a place in a revamped system. She knows how it ought to work.
There's a further, nearly unbelievable, wrinkle to the story of the current immigration courts.

President George W. Bush determined that a military court system would be a faster, cleaner forum in which to try War on Terror prisoners (some of whom the CIA had illegally tortured) than the ordinary justice system. After a great deal of litigation and politics, the federal courts and Congress created the Military Commissions which have supposedly been trying terrorism cases that date back to 2000! However, since these "courts" are having to make up their own rules, having been freed of the regular judicial system, yet are subject to review in the real courts, absolutely zero progress has been made toward convicting men we have every reason to believe committed such crimes as blowing up the U.S.S. Cole in port in Yemen and conspiring with al-Qaeda.

The most recent hiccups in the Military Commissions have occurred when it emerged that the two military officers put in place as judges were each concurrently applicants to the Department of Justice to become immigration judges. Defense lawyers howled impropriety/conflict of interest. We hear thanks to ace Guantanamo reporter Carol Rosenberg that these cases are now back to square one, still in pre-trial proceedings after nearly two decades. So much for making up the rules on the fly.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

There is still compassion in the land

So Donald Trump threatens to ship asylum seekers from the border to sanctuary cities. And amid the Twitter cesspool of performative snark, a hashtag springs up: #MyHomeIsASanctuary. People want to offer their homes to desperate migrants.

I don't know what if anything will come of this. It takes organization to accomplish such a practice. U.S. law is not friendly to such a thing. (Canada has a legal avenue for private refugee sponsorship. Why don't we?)

But the offering tweets lift the soul in a bad time. I came into the thread through a prolific tweeter from Minnesota: @BryceTache :
  • "I’ll host an immigrant family. With gratitude and love."
A random sample of the outpouring that followed:
  • "We got a couple rooms for a couple of kids and their Moms.......send them here!"
  • "I’ve had people on my couch in the past and have even converted part of my dining room into a fourth bedroom. "
  • "We’re tight but there’s a roof, food on the table and care all around. "
  • "Empty nesters who speak (rusty) Spanish have room for an asylum-seeking mom and 1-2 kids"
  • "I live on 2 acres in suburbs of Richmond Va. I’ve been thinking how can I help an immigrant family for a year now."
  • "I'm in Texas and we have a guest room. "
And on and on.

Which of our over-burdened, under-imaginative, non-profits will take on helping people make this impulse real?

Photo ganked from the Twitter thread.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Out and about the 'hood

I sure hope this poster on the exterior wall of our neighborhood school does the trick and recruits PTA leaders.

But I have to wonder -- just who is this iconography aimed at? Probably not low income parents, some of whom make a living cleaning houses. Probably not the few professional class parents whose houses are being cleaned. Who?

Yes, I know, 1980s feminists cherished this World War II-era "Rosie the Riveter" image. It's a wonderful image. And but among those who recognize her, somehow I don't think many are among the parents at our school. What was someone thinking in adopting her for their recruiting poster?

Sometimes moral action wins the vote

Georgetown University is the unusual U.S. institution whose history of profiting from slavery can be properly documented. Not only that, the descendants of the 272 enslaved men, women and children the University sold off in 1838 to deep South plantations to pay its debts have been individually identified.

Students wanted the school to do more than apologize. So they organized a student vote on a measure that

proposes a fee, starting with $27.20 per student for the fall 2020 semester, that would raise an estimated $400,000. The student fee would increase with inflation and would fund a nonprofit led by a board of students and descendants, who would give money to charitable causes directly benefiting descendants of the 19th-century sale.

More than two thirds of students who voted approved of the fee. (Tuition was over $50K per academic year in 2019.) It will be up to the administration to implement the measure -- or not. The student vote should create plenty of pressure here.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Let the people go

On the cusp of the sacred festivals of the Jewish Passover and the Christian Holy Week, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity held its monthly vigil outside the immigration courts in downtown San Francisco this Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Trump administration, is continuing to target local residents and families severely destabilizing them and causing great harm to their small children especially, but to their whole families as well. ...

“So many children are now languishing in ORR custody that the agency has begun detaining children at unlicensed, “influx” facilities….These policies and practices have increased the suffering of immigrant children and families, while increasing the burden on taxpayers as well,” says Lewis Cohen, [spokesperson for the National Center for Youth Law]. Media release

Friday cat blogging

Morty has taken over my pillow. He's awfully good at looking pensive.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Just say no to outrage overload

In what sort of country do teenagers enact locking babies in cages?
Says Virginia Heffernan: "A nice place for departing Trumpites like Nielsen to rest up & get away from our stressful nation might be The Hague" The Hague in the Netherlands is the location of the International Criminal Court which tries human rights abuses in countries that won't do the job.

Michelle Goldberg summarizes some of fired DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's transgressions of decency:
Nielsen did not create Trump’s monstrous policy of separating migrant families, but she should be known forever as the person who carried it out. She put babies in cages, traumatized children for life, and then appears to have lied to Congress about what she had done. She did this evil work with either blithe incompetence or malicious sloppiness, failing to create a system to properly track kids who were ripped from their families. On Friday, the Trump administration said it could take up to two years to identify thousands of separated migrant children.
Goldberg is not ready to let Nielsen prance off gaily, now that Trump has given her the hook. And she hopes that citizen mobilizations can prevent many of Trump's cast-offs from finding cushy landing spots, at least those who were not millionaires before they came in and might try to resurface in corporate and academic settings.

There's such an effort to exclude Nielson from landing in in academia and environs.

There's the inevitable internet petition Goldberg reports:
“Allowing her to seek refuge in a corporate corner office or a boardroom, university, speaking agency or elsewhere poses a significant reputational risk for those involved,” said Karl Frisch, a spokesman for Restore Public Trust, the group organizing the campaign.

... There are plenty of places that will hire a disgraced child-torturer — private prisons, which often hold undocumented immigrants, are a big business. And Henry Kissinger’s storied social life shows that America’s elite is far from inhospitable to ghouls. But as the country hurtles into a dangerous new phase of unbound Trumpism, those who want to say no need to muster whatever leverage they can, including public shame and economic sanctions. Either the leaders of corporate America and academia want to be associated with terrorizing toddlers, or not.
I have no beef with making life uncomfortable for these people and the institutions that might hire them, but I have trouble believing that such campaigns are enough.

Unfortunately, working for a better country and against Trumpist cruelty and criminality requires us all to sustain outrage. That's hard. Millions of us worked our butts off to elect a Democratic Congress and we did the job. We're tired and disgusted. But we can't look away. #Resistance is not a laugh line; it's our path toward survival of democracy and decency.

David Nir, Daily Kos elections wizard, reminds us that all the upcoming elections matter. We have to win the presidency -- but we also have to win the local judgeships, the District Attorney contests, as well as legislative seats.
We desperately need to reawaken the spirit of 2018, when Democrats won resoundingly from coast to coast at every level of the ballot because progressives invested themselves everywhere. We need to take back the Senate, protect the House, flip and defend state legislatures, and, yes, win a bunch of state Supreme Court races.

But more than that, we have to root out the disease of Trumpism—the corruption, the rot, the violence, the disregard for the rule of law, the abject cruelty, all of it. Donald Trump himself is a symptom and an accelerant, but he’s not the cause. If we defeat him but leave the rest of the apparatus that props him up in place, we’ll again find ourselves in the same situation before long, only worse.
The work is the sole remedy for the pain.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Happy news from the SF Public Library

San Franciscans are a critical bunch when it comes to city government. Just the other day, I dropped in on the guy who makes my glasses. "You hear that buzzing?" he asks.

I do, vaguely. He explains the phone in the back room has been on hold for half an hour trying to get through to someone in a city tax office to explain that he's already paid the bill they are dunning him for.

We commiserate.

I also routinely commiserate with a friend who owns a little shop: although we have an "Office of Small Business," she's never been able to reach a human being there either.

But there's one institution most of us can praise unreservedly: the San Francisco Public Library. It even comes to us, as pictured here.

And now our library plans to join San Mateo, Contra Costa, Berkeley and San Diego in making borrowing fine-free. Those annoying 5 and 10 cent a day fines only bring in $300K annually -- a drop in the bucket in a $138 million budget.

Librarians told the Library Commission they hate trying to collect fines. But the damage is so much greater than a few dollars. Anne Stuhldreher from The Financial Justice Office (yeah, we have such a thing) studied the effects of the fine system:

We found that approximately 5 percent of all library cardholders have their cards blocked because of overdue fines.

Library borrowers regardless of income miss return deadlines at similar rates. About one-third of borrowers owe overdue fines or fees at any time.

However, lower income people have a harder time paying fines for overdue items. In the Bayview branch, which serves a lower-income area, 11 percent of people have their cards blocked. That’s three times as high as at branches in many high-income areas.

Library branches serving areas with larger numbers of African Americans and people without college degrees also had higher debt levels and more blocked accounts from overdue fines.

Simply put, charging overdue fines works against the library’s mission of free and equal access to information.

Message received by the powers that be. No more fines! You would think they actually people to read books. ...

I think I'll take in the 5 cents I owe anyway.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Climate corrective or another Theranos?

I have fond feelings toward concrete. The years of life I spent pouring and shaping the stuff while doing earthquake safety retrofits left me appreciating that this is a fluid, malleable, lively substance, not just inert rock.

And so I'm emotionally inclined to imagine that a purported breakthrough in turning concrete construction into a carbon reducing tool might be more than hype. According to something called the Foundation for Climate Restoration offered as sponsored copy in Grist, a Los Gatos entrepreneur named Brent Constantz has launched a company that makes synthetic limestone using carbon captured from our polluted air. The result can be used to make carbon neutral concrete.

Blue Planet’s process starts with collecting CO2 and dissolving it in a solution. In the process, the company creates carbonate that reacts with calcium from waste materials or rock to create calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate happens to be the main ingredient in limestone. But rather than superheating it to create cement (which would release all that CO2 right back into the atmosphere), Constantz and his team turn the resulting stone into pebbles that serve as aggregate.

This is easiest to do where there’s lots of CO2 — smokestacks at factories, refineries and power plants, for example — but it can also come from “direct air capture,” using less concentrated air anywhere, a technology whose costs are rapidly declining.

Do this on a large scale, Constantz said, and you could help satiate the growing global demand for rock and sand, and make a massive dent in the climate crisis at the same time: Every ton of Blue Planet’s synthetic limestone contains 440 kilograms of CO2. While it still needs to be mixed with cement (the goopy stuff) to make concrete, using this in place of gravel or stone that needs to be quarried and crushed creates a finished product that is carbon neutral, if not carbon-negative, according to the company.

Well maybe. A less credulous article in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects surveys a range of efforts along these lines. While insisting that further study is needed, fast, these architects find the prospect of incorporating negative emission technologies in their buildings enticing:

In the coming years, buildings may share the burden of achieving negative carbon emissions—attending to client needs as well as global imperatives. Exactly how they can meet this challenge represents both a significant test and a grand opportunity for architecture.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Donkey party doing its thing

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is smothering itself in a defensive cocoon, aiming to prevent Democratic snake oil professionals -- political consultants, pollsters, and vendors -- from signing on with primary challengers to sitting Democratic Congresscritters. The DCCC is tasked with re-electing as many Democrats as possible. It fears challenges will drain resources from members in competitive seats, hence they are blacklisting outfits that work for challengers.

Mostly when it comes to elections I'm a pretty rigid team player; if you want to win, you have to get with the program and stick to it. And there's little point in engaging with elections but to win. But this DCCC move seems dumb and counterproductive to me.

Progressive citizen organizations that have shown some electoral capacity since 2016 are kicking back.

“We reject the D.C.C.C.’s attempt to hoard power, which will only serve to keep that talent pool — and Congress itself — disproportionately white and male,” María Urbina, the national political director for Indivisible, a progressive grass-roots group, said of the campaign committee. “Incumbents who engage fully with their constituents shouldn’t fear primaries and shouldn’t rely on the national institutions like the D.C.C.C. to suppress challenges before voters ever have a say.”

Detroit Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who had served in the Michigan legislature and both won and lost in primaries before winning her current seat, offered her $.02:

I’ve experience being primaried. It’s s part of being kept in check with the folks you serve and always working hard for them. If anything, it reminds you to focus on your district all day, every day.

That seems right.

Sometimes a primary challenge, even a failed one, can serve a useful purpose. Here in blue-est San Francisco I'm glad someone usually steps up to annoy Nancy Pelosi -- not because they'll win, but because without challenges, the electorate sits unheard without audible dissent.

In recent cycles, this very blue region has seen one primary challenger make two charges toward Congressional office in the South Bay. When now-Congressman Ro Khanna, who'd made unsuccessful runs elsewhere, first took on longtime stalwart progressive Congressman Mike Honda in 2014, I figured he was just an impatient interloper. Honda seemed a decent guy and I liked having someone who'd experienced the World War II-era Japanese internment sitting in Washington. Khanna lost that round. But in 2016, Khanna kept at it and convinced enough 17th District voters to out-poll Honda. By now he's a veteran progressive Congressman himself and proving an imaginative and creative advocate for progressive policies. So an intra-party election served voters well in that one.

The DCCC can't stifle challenges when sitting members have real vulnerabilities or have drifted out of touch with their constituents. It could better bolster its vulnerable members by coaching them in how to take care of their districts, improving their communications, and sharing strategies from senior members who have this figured out. Most challenges to incumbents will fail. When they succeed, something was wrong somewhere.

Meanwhile, I'll continue my longstanding practice of donating only to individual candidates, never to the DCCC.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Coming up in apartheid South Africa with wit and with Jesus

I guess he had to be a comedian. His memoir's title names his problem: he was Born a Crime. Now he hosts the Daily Show. In the South Africa he was born into in 1984, he was the half-breed child of an illegal relationship between a white man and his Xhosa mother from the rural Transkei. Not to say he was an unhappy accident. His mom knew she wanted a child and got what she wanted. His father was supportive though remote. And young Trevor fit in nowhere among his African kin or his society's rigid racial casts: he was not black African, not colored, not Afrikaans, and certainly not white.

Against all probabilities, Noah's devoted mother raised an independent scamp into the accomplished, gentle, sharp-edged social observer whose wit we now enjoy thousands of miles from his native Johannesburg. This book is a delight.

The book is mostly vignettes from Noah's upbringing, told with vigor and humor. Much of it is about his mother, the mother that walloped him for his own good for any mischief (if she could catch him). She diligently exposed him to every cultural opportunity she knew of, including long days of church: "mixed" and jubilant (suburban megachurch), white (analytical and Biblical), and black (revivalist). The little family unit were faithful participants in all three -- every Sunday! For his mother, Jesus was ever and always her insurance in a crazy, violent world.

His mother taught him practical lessons that stood him in good stead. South African apartheid separated the races into linguistic as well as racial groups; Noah's mom knew how to cross forbidden lines with language, teaching him familiarity with English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu and some of many other African tongues.

I learned to use language like my mother did. I would simulcast -- give you the program in your own tongue. I'd get suspicious looks from people just walking down the street. "Where are you from?" they'd ask. I'd reply in whatever language they'd addressed me in, using the same accent they used. There would be a brief moment of confusion, and then the suspicious looks would disappear. "Oh, okay. I thought you were a stranger. We're good then."

There's a fluency I wish I had here in California. No wonder Noah knows how to talk to Ammurricans.

The book offers plenty of glimpses of South Africa's system of racial apartheid which excluded four fifths of the population from any power in their nation until 1994 -- and whose legacy still deforms this rich and troubled country. For example this, explaining one of the ways that the young Noah did fit in, while highlighting the contradictions in the lives of women like his mother :

The fact that I grew up in a world run by women was no accident. Apartheid kept me away from my father because he was white, but for almost all the kids I knew on my grandmother's block in Soweto, apartheid had taken away their fathers as well, just for different reasons. Their fathers were off working in a mine somewhere, able to come home only during the holidays. Their fathers had been sent to prison. Their fathers were in exile, fighting for the cause. Women held the community together.  Wathint' Abafazi Wathint' imbokodo! was the chant they would rally to during the freedom struggle. "When you strike a woman, you strike a rock." As a nation, we recognized the power of women, but in the home they were expected to submit and obey.

He does not sweeten the moral horror of the system under which he was raised:

Apartheid was a police state, a system of surveillance and laws designed to keep black people under total control. A full compendium of those laws would run more than three thousand pages and weigh approximately ten pounds, but the general thrust of it should be easy enough for any American to understand. In America you had forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.

Yet for all this, Noah found a generous moral center. An enormously talented young man, he could easily have ended up just another casualty of poverty without considerable luck, his imaginative ambition, and the moral compass his mother had beaten into him. During a time when he was making a living fencing stolen goods in a black township, he recalls acquiring a digital camera -- a camera that still had on its chip the pictures belonging to the family that had "lost" it. He describes understanding vividly that his hustle was hurting others he never had seen.

In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don't see the person it affects. We don't see their face. We don't see them as people. Which was the whole reason the hood was built in the first place, to keep the victims of apartheid out of sight and out of mind. Because if white people ever saw black people as human, they would see that slavery is unconscionable.

We live in a world where we don't see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don't live with them. It would be a whole lot harder for an investment banker to rip off people with subprime mortgages if he actually had to live with the people he was ripping off. If we could see one another's pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place. ... That camera made me confront the fact that there were people on the other end of this thing I was doing, and what I was doing was wrong.

After the period chronicled in this book, Noah left South Africa for Los Angeles when he'd been threatened by his mother's violent second ex-husband who had repeatedly attacked his mother. We have been lucky to have attracted this migrant.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Judicial bias showing

Hoda Hawa of the Muslim Public Affairs Council writes:

Two Rulings Strengthen Perception of Anti-Muslim Bias in Supreme Court
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled to delay the execution of Patrick Murphy, a Buddhist inmate in Texas, until his spiritual advisor could be present.

In March, SCOTUS rejected a similar appeal made from Domineque Ray, a Black Muslim inmate in Alabama also facing execution. Ray’s case was rejected for making the request “too late,” whereas Murphy’s request was given with less notice and accepted. This is a double standard. On the heels of last June’s SCOTUS ruling in favor of the Muslim Ban, the inconsistent rulings only strengthen the perception of an anti-Muslim bias in the Supreme Court.

... The Supreme Court is fundamentally a deliberative body made up of people with biases, ideological dispositions and juridical styles — a fact made clear during every confirmation proceeding, but perhaps made most apparent during Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. The integrity of our judicial system rests on the assumption that a judge’s beliefs and ideologies does not bear on the ability to consistently interpret the law. The Court’s decision in the Muslim Ban case and the flip between the Ray and Murphy cases are clear examples of how Justices’ personal and discriminatory biases can still generate inconsistent judicial rulings between cases. ...

Advocates do not usually call out judges by ascribing their decisions to simple, blind, prejudice. We like to think judges are ruling based on their understanding of law. Simply prudentially, lawyers who might have to argue before judges again don't want to break the illusion and get judicial backs up. But when the law turns ugly, there is no other recourse but to tell the truth and go to the consciences of the people.

US Muslims are far from the first repressed minority to have to call out a biased court. The Black civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 60s combined careful, strategic, legal advocacy with street heat such as the lunch counter sit-ins which demonstrated the injustice of "separate but equal" Jim Crow laws. The LGBT movement more than once responded to judicial bias with public kiss-ins to highlight where the real scandal was located.

With US courts packed with more and more Federalist Society judges who replicate and advance the prejudices of their Republican sponsors, it's likely that such extra-legal demands for recognition from unfavored groups will have to go side by side with legal advocacy to uphold the rights of minorities. US history says such protests can sway the judicial system, but there will be casualties along the way.

Friday, April 05, 2019


San Franciscans, brought together by IndivisibleSF and MoveOn, rallied at Powell and Market, on Thursday to demand release of the full Mueller report which Trump and his Attorney General are seeking to withhold.

Representative Adam Schiff, who chairs the House committee investigating foreign intrusions in US democracy, was a hero to this crowd. A leader intoned the evidence we have all seen which Schiff repeated in a committee presentation:

You might think its okay that the Russians offered dirt on a Democratic candidate for president as part of what was described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign ... When that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, the president’s son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help. Instead that son said that he would love the help of the Russians. ... Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience in running campaigns, also took that meeting…. The president’s son-in-law also took that meeting…. They concealed it from the public…. Their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. ...

After each phrase, the crowd shouted Schiff's meme: "It's not okay."

It's not okay.

Friday cat blogging

This fellow has an interesting platform from which to watch the world go by.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

It would be wonderful to travel to Joshua Tree ...

to see the great wildflower bloom of 2019.

But if time and funds are short, San Franciscans can take the N-Judah streetcar to the Great Highway, step to the rear of the public restroom, and encounter this:
Happy Spring!

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

The Democratic field must not dodge on immigration

Last week on The Weeds podcast, Dara Lind, who is one of the best immigration reporters around, just about begged the crowd of Democratic presidential hopefuls to take up her subject. Well it looks as if Julian Castro has been first out the gate with the others not lagging far behind.

According to the Washington Post:

Castro says his plan is premised on the idea that the southern border is more secure than it has been in decades. The former head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and mayor of San Antonio would end border wall construction, allow deported veterans who honorably served to return to the United States, increase refu­gee quotas and make it easier for family members to be reunited with relatives who are U.S. residents. He would ask Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including young people who received protections under the Obama administration and those covered by the Temporary Protected Status program.

He said he would also create a “21st-century Marshall Plan” for Central America to attack the woeful conditions there, seen as the root cause of the recent increase in asylum seekers. For those who reach the country’s interior, he would reconstitute the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, by reassigning its interior enforcement functions to other agencies, including the Justice Department. He would also re-prioritize Customs and Border Protection efforts to focus on drug and human trafficking instead of interior law enforcement.

Castro said he would impose a civil legal process for sorting out refu­gee applications and deportations, with an emphasis on jailing and removing only those with criminal records.

Frankly I would hope this would be a minimum Democratic program. Objective number one has to be ensure realism, humanity, and compassion in our government's immigration policy.

But in order to appear serious to me, any Democrat has to do so much more.
  • It's time for Democrats to make the argument that immigration is good for the country. It is. And we should know this in our bones, since aside for surviving Native people, all of us derived from somewhere else. There are a couple of flavors of pro-immigration argumentation that bolder Democrats could resort to:
    1. The U.S. benefits from what amounts to international brain drain when we admit eager immigrants. Here's one such perspective from Noah Smith in Bloomberg News:

      As opportunities to get rich in China proliferated, Chinese students who came to the U.S. increasingly went back after graduation. But now the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut is hitting a rough patch. ... The country [China] is growing increasingly repressive, not just toward the Uighurs and other minorities, but toward the general public. Even discussion of economic policy is now often off-limits. The country may yet regain its economic footing and resume opening up, but for now all of the trends look bad. ... That there are so many elites who lack confidence in China’s stability and prospects should be a warning for the regime, but for the U.S. it could provide an unexpected bounty. If the U.S. were to welcome those Chinese people and make them Americans, it would receive a healthy dose of entrepreneurial talent.

    2. Here's a straight up pitch for open borders from New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo:

      ... open borders isn’t just a good plan — it’s the only chance we’ve got. America is an aging nation with a stagnant population. We have ample land to house lots more people, but we are increasingly short of workers. And on the global stage, we face two colossi — India and China — which, with their billions, are projected to outstrip American economic hegemony within two decades.

      How will we ever compete with such giants? The same way we always have: by inviting the world’s most enthusiastic and creative people — including the people willing to walk here, to risk disease and degradation and death to land here — to live out their best life under liberty.

    Both these pro-immigration arguments are prudential, but they are not therefore false or inhumane.
  • Democrats need to get serious about how we plan to deal with refugees. Unless, contrary to all current evidence, we succeed in limiting the damage from climate change to levels we show no sign of achieving, millions of human beings will be displaced by fire and flood, hunger and thirst over the next few decades. Exactly how many we don't know; estimates vary between 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050. Only a relative few will arrive at our borders, but even a relatively small number (say just 5 million perhaps?) will be a crisis unless we prepare to deal with this flow of suffering humanity. Current international humanitarian law wasn't written for climate migrants, but that won't hold desperate people away. Immigrant novelist Laila Lalami begs us to prepare, morally and practically.

    Like other species on this planet, human beings are a migratory type. When they suddenly find themselves in desperate need of physical safety or economic opportunity, they leave home and start over somewhere new. It has always been this way. The earliest stories we tell ourselves are stories of displacement: Adam’s fall from Eden, Moses’ flight from Egypt, Muhammad’s hegira to Medina. Trying to stop this process through the building of walls strikes me as both ineffective and unnatural — like trying to stop a river from flowing.

    I use the simile deliberately. ... As much as it is an economic, a social and a foreign-policy issue, migration is a climate issue.

    Those who are safe from displacement — at least for the moment — must confront the roles they want to play in this unfolding global story. What responsibility do people in America, for example, have toward those who live in places that have been ravaged by wars the American government has started or abetted? What responsibility do they have toward those who have benefited least from industrialization but stand to suffer most? And how do they plan to adapt to global migration?

    We can either blunder toward this reality unconscious and unwarned -- or we can demand our leaders help the country rise to the challenge.
There plenty of smaller tweaks it would be nice to see Democrats talking about.

They can turn the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) back toward its mission of facilitating migrants becoming citizens. (The Trump Department of Homeland Security is using it to slow-walk applications and find people who cheated on their processing.)

They could look into the successful Canadian system of enabling self-organized groups of five individual citizens to sponsor and help integrate new refugee immigrants.

They could make back and forth traffic across US borders easier -- one of the reasons we have so many (10 million?) undocumented people in the country is that successive administrations dammed up the border with walls and militarized cops, so temporary work in the US turned into a permanent relocation for people who might have gone home.

A smarter immigration system would make less use of courts, but the remaining courts could be extracted from the domain of the Department of Justice and made into normal courts with ordinary legal procedures and independent judges who are not subject to the whims of any Attorney General.

We could hope that a Democratic administration would do many of those things -- but we need to ask our crop of candidates to face the big issues: that immigration is both inevitable and also good and desirable and that climate change will mean more refugees and more challenges to our humanity.