Friday, May 31, 2019

Meet another awesome new Congresscritter

At 32, Representative Lauren Underwood, a nurse and health policy wonk, is the youngest Black woman ever elected to Congress. She flipped a GOP-held seat in Chicago's western suburbs.

Two weeks ago during a committee hearing, she really riled up Trump-defending Republicans:

"This is more than a question of resources," Underwood said during the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on the administration's budget request from acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. "Congress has been more than willing to provide resources and to work with you, Mr. Secretary, to address the security and humanitarian concerns and, at this point, with five children dead and 5,000 separated from their families, this is intentional. It's a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration, and it's cruel and inhumane."

NBC News

GOPers and the Democratic committee chairman demanded that her remarks be taken down. Underwood refused to recant having spoken too much truth, reminding her colleagues that a 16 year Guatemalan boy had died in custody earlier that week.

She's another one worth watching and getting behind.

Friday cat blogging

Late in life, Morty has developed a new quirk. He refuses to drink from the bowl he's used for the last five years. In fact, he became so dehydrated that we had to inject him with subcutaneous fluid. (You got lucky; I didn't post photos of those episodes with needles and two humans holding down the cat.) Once he was partially recovered, he stopped cooperating. But he did develop enough energy to show us that we were supposed to turn on faucets when he wanted a drink. So we do.
That works, but as good Californians, we feel compelled to hang around to turn off tap.

Morty has also discovered there is water in the toilet bowl.
Note the deft use of the tail for balance. He only occasionally falls in.

This works fine for him, but it creeps me out, so we've ordered him a cat fountain. Let's hope he'll deign to use it. To be continued ...

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The presidency used to be a more unstable perch

Seeking to encourage Democrats to focus on the task ahead in 2020, pundits keep reminding their audiences (that's us) that "most presidents get re-elected."

Yet for a still significant slice of the electorate, a slice that largely can be counted on to vote, that's not the experience of our formative years.

Between 1960 and 1980, no president completed two consecutive terms.
  • John F. Kennedy -- assassinated in 1963 in his third year in office
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson -- a vice president who succeeded Kennedy, elected for one term in a landslide in his own right, then became so reviled because of the Vietnam War that he chose not to run for re-election
  • Richard Nixon -- elected in 1968, re-elected in 1972, but resigned rather than be impeached in 1974
  • Gerald Ford -- an appointed vice-present (the elected one was a crook who had quit) who served out the last two years of Nixon's term
  • Jimmy Carter -- elected in 1976; lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980.
If John Hinckley Jr. been a more accurate shooter, might this pattern of incomplete presidencies have continued?

Since 1980, all sitting presidents have been re-elected except George H.W. Bush. But there is nothing fixed in that rather recent, orderly, pattern. It should not surprise if, in our current situation of contentious changes and incompatible demands, if we were to revert to a less stable condition. That feels promising at this moment -- also a little scary, but certainly possible.

Erudite Partner and I kicked this history around a bit; she helped settle my thinking.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Victories keep on giving: felon re-enfranchisement in Nevada

The crew that gave their all to win the 2018 vote for Democrats in Nevada led by new Governor Steve Sisolak can savor another win: the current Democratic state legislature is on its way automatically restoring the voting rights of all felons. The old rules were incomprehensible; some ex-prisoners could vote but many could not. And hardly anyone knew which ones were which. Canvassers struggled to figure out whether they could tell people they met on the doors that they could vote.

Now, according to the Reno Gazette Journal, that's going to change.

Nevada could soon become the 39th state to automatically restore voting rights to people released from prison.

The Nevada Legislature on Wednesday passed Assembly Bill 431, which would immediately allow ex-felons to vote, including those convicted in another state. The bill also allows people convicted of a crime, but not imprisoned, to cast a ballot. The measure applies retroactively to previously released offenders.

... Corey Goldstone, a spokesman for the Campaign Legal Center, estimated the bill would restore voting rights to more than 77,000 residents.

... Sisolak, an outspoken proponent of election reforms such as same-day registration and expanded early voting, is expected to sign the measure in the coming weeks.

There's plenty more coming from the majority-woman Democratic-led state legislature in the Silver State: gun safety legislation proposed by a survivor of the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting massacre, repeal of previously passed Republican measures that impeded collective bargaining for state employees like teachers and firefighters, and repeal of antique state abortion restrictions (largely unenforceable under Roe v. Wade) mostly held over from the early 20th century.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Kick ass, ladies!

How could I not thrill to Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger? I've been an angry woman for decades. This doesn't show much in my daily interactions: I like my anger better when efficacious rather than expressive. But it's there -- and I know I'm not alone. So Rebecca Traister's catalogue and exposé of our contemporary fury is satisfying.

It's also smart, professional, and deeply researched. She's delved into the history, both of women who embodied their rage as feminist theorists in the 1960s and 70s, and of political insurgents subjected to patriarchal disdain like Susan B. Anthony, Shirley Chisholm, and Barbara Lee. She's attempted the work that any white woman must to describe the complications lived by women of color struggling amidst both male entitlement and white supremacy as well as US late-capitalism and a host of other isms. In her coverage of our reaction to the 2016 election of a classic male pig and the subsequent #MeToo explosion, she offers journalism that should serve as "a rough first draft of history" -- if that history is not buried as so much of women's experience has been.

And her particular observations are acute, if not necessarily original. She digs into the media's enthusiasm for reporting conflicts within and about the Women's March over political direction and legitimacy, pointing out that it is the nature to social movements to dispute their differences and learn from the process. But when it comes to women, there's always more:

The highlighting of dissent over accomplishment is a way to undermine a movement, and it has everything to do with the structural reality of gender inequality. The women's movement is a movement not of an oppressed minority, but of a subjugated majority. Majorities, by the very nature of their scale, are bound to include groups with varying -- and warring -- priorities and goals. ... The cheapest way to weaken and undermine a mass movement is to use its differences to divide it, and thus maintain power over it.

(That's also worth remembering next time you see the media proclaiming "Democrats in Disarray." Democrats/liberals/even the resigned-but-cautiously-hopeful also are a majority of everybody; we just don't know how to turn our majority into power. Yet.)

But -- you guessed that "but" was coming, didn't you? -- Traister's Mad also disappointed me. The deep, awful insight which insurgent women cannot escape is that we live with, and often desire to be intimate with, and even to love, men whose social condition is to have power over us. To be a woman is to experience from infancy the imperative to constrain our own development so as to protect male entitlement. We've recently seen on national TV what it looks like when a man fears he might be blocked from what he knows are his just desserts by a woman calling him out. Brett Kavanaugh is no aberration; he's just an entitled upper-class white guy. (The Blassey Ford/Kavanaugh hearing came after the book's publication. Traister certainly nailed that episode.)

Yet there are quite a few contemporary U.S. women who have managed to organize lives far less dependent on men than hardly any women who came before. There were the middle class women of the author's mother's generation who left empty marriages from the 1970s onward because they found they could, even if just barely, support themselves and children. We are a different sort of society for this leap into the unknown. There are the emerging "Single Ladies" whose hopes and discontents Traister has chronicled.

But (I have to ask because this is my kind) where in all this history of rage are the lesbians? Are we not also women?

Not in Mad. We don't appear anywhere, though I know that some of her interviewees identify as lesbians. What's with that omission?

I suspect this is because of an inconvenient truth this author chose not to wrangle with as it might detract from her truths. Her newly rediscovered mentor Andrea Dworkin bluntly stated the dilemma in Right-wing Women:

Lesbianism is a transgression of rules, an affront; but its prohibition is not a basic constituent part of sex oppression and its expression does not substantively breach or transform sex oppression.

I think that's a truth, though partial. We lesbians throw off male expectations, but unless we actively identify with and participate in the struggle of all women for self-definition -- for liberation for all -- our mere existence doesn't intrinsically contribute much.

Now in truth, if you look around at much of the leadership of resistance to patriarchy (and white supremacy, and economic exploitation, and our cruel authoritarian POTUS), we lesbians are indeed everywhere. But there is nothing automatic about that. My instinct is that most women-loving women won't settle solely a chance to have legal marriage and some recognition that we can be parents -- but that's not a certainty. And I can see why Traister might not want to blunder about in that complex discussion.

Quibbles aside, this is an important book. It came out before the 2018 midterms in which women, "newly engaged suburban activists," helped turn rage into a Blue Wave. Can we stay mad watching the GOP threaten our bodily autonomy and everyone's lives? I promise to try.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Challenging memorial observations

Andrew Bacevich visited the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in the sad, hollowed-out, town of Marseilles, Illinois.

Those whose names are engraved on the wall in Marseilles died in service to their country. Of that there is no doubt. Whether they died to advance the cause of freedom or even the well-being of the United States is another matter entirely. Terms that might more accurately convey why these wars began and why they have persisted include oil, dominion, hubris, the refusal among policymakers to own up to their own stupendous folly, and the collective negligence of oblivious citizens. Some might add to the list an inability to distinguish between our own interests and those of putative allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

L.A. Times

The name of the retired colonel and historian's son is among those on the wall, but that is probably not the first thing he'd want you to think about him. He'd rather you ponder his observation of what his country has become on this Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Wars' desolation remembered

Memories of World War II are dying, almost gone, literally. For my parents and for a generation or so after, this was "The War." All those deadly subsequent conflicts were simply -- wars.

Neil Halloran's "animated data-driven documentary" tries to convey the magnitude of The War. It's a worthwhile 18 minutes for a holiday weekend. It reminds that those "adversary powers" of today suffered the preponderance of the dying in The War. The "Long Peace" that has ensued should be precious, but like The War, it can be forgotten as time flows on.

By the way, Halloran has apologized for conflating all German soldiers with "Nazis." Most soldiers everywhere were conscripts, though some violated any standards of decent conduct far more than others.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Saturday scenes: Financial District evolution

Does it mean anything that San Francisco's Pacific Coast Stock Exchange grew up to be a gym?

Modern office towers dwarf the original Neo-classical facade. What began as an branch office of the federal Treasury department was remodeled into a financial hub in 1930 with the addition of two monstrous granite Art Deco statues adjacent to the grand entrance.

Agriculture is evidently the the domain of women.

The bold leaders of Industry look resolute. Given the era of their creation, they probably needed to be.

Note the pigeons. They find the figures convenient.

Trading of financial instruments here ceased in 2002. What do you do with a used stock exchange? Lease it to a "luxury fitness club."

It was a season working downtown among such wonders that inspired me to be begin Walking San Francisco.

Friday, May 24, 2019

When it comes to Iran, the U.S. press fails over and over

The great stare down is on again. The pawns are likely to get bloodied. Washington is ramping up its threats against Iran. Iran has continued to observe the Obama-era agreement not to build a bomb that Trump trashed on assuming office; Europe has tried to preserve what was a pretty good bargain. Meanwhile the Trump regime seems to be doing its best through economic sanctions and bluster to push Iran to break an uneasy peace.

Yeah -- we've seen this movie before in another oil rich nation adjacent to Iran. That didn't turn out so well.

The same anticipatory helplessness so many of us felt in the run up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2002-3 is back.

(Reuters) - Half of all Americans believe that the United States will go to war with Iran "within the next few years," according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll [PDF] released on Tuesday amid increased tensions between the two countries.

A plurality of us (49%) disapprove, but most believe there's no stopping the dynamic at work. And most say they would rally round the flag if they believed Iran had attacked our forces in the region -- so the situation is ripe for a "Gulf of Tonkin incident" like the phony provocation used by Washington to jump into our Vietnam adventure. That didn't turn out so well either.

Meanwhile, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who until recently headed up the Defense Department under Trump and knows something of war, had some words of warning:

"The United States should buy time to keep peace and stability and allow diplomats to work diplomacy on how to keep peace for one more hour, one more day, one more week, a month or a year," Mattis said during remarks in the United Arab Emirates.

Task and Purpose

You probably hadn't heard that. U.S. news media apparently didn't think the guy who was at the top of our military until recently had something important to say. (The report is from a specialized military newspaper.)

U.S. major media seem incapable of delivering a serious, rounded account of US-Iranian relations. This failure is so acute that Andrew Lee Butters, a former Time magazine Beirut bureau chief now teaching at Yale, shared tough conclusions about professional failures in the Columbia Journalism Review.

The broad psychological takeaway of reading the news is inevitably that Iran is a threat. Even balanced appraisals of Iran—that note, for example, that the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979 in part as a reaction to the American antidemocratic coup there, in 1953— get lost amid the noise of buzzwords like “terror,” “mullah,” “nuclear,” “proxies,” and “militias.” ... Even though the Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear deal that Iran had negotiated with the Obama administration—a deal that stopped Iran’s nuclear enrichment program—most headlines and talking points on air tell us that Iran is “threatening” to resume the production of nuclear material.

The US, it must not be forgotten, has done its fair share to threaten Iran: encouraging Iraq to invade Iran in the 1980s and kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians, invading Iraq in 2003 and soon after eyeing Iran, selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to anti-Iranian Middle Eastern autocrats, embracing a known anti-Iranian terror cult—the MEK—in the hope of fomenting a regime change. ... The Iranian government has much to answer for, especially for its role assisting the Bashar al-Assad regime in the murderous suppression of the Syrian democracy movement, which was once peaceful. But to counter Iran’s regional military power with the application of more American military power is neither moral nor practical.

I’m pretty sure that most of the reporters and editors at CNN, the Times, and NPR know this. And I’m sure that most of them know exactly what game the Trump administration is playing. But there is some deep-seated loyalty to something like “balance” or “objectivity” that is misplaced, and ends up looking like regulatory capture. ...

Why the amnesia and partisanship from the media? Perhaps because it’s hard to tell Americans that a country full of angry-looking men with black turbans and beards who have captured our diplomats and designed bombs that kill our soldiers have real, legitimate reasons to be angry and afraid of us. And perhaps because it’s hard even for those American reporters who know the Middle East to keep that unconscious bias from slipping into our copy, especially in headlines and photo choices. Raised on American exceptionalism, it’s hard to swallow that our misdeeds in the Middle East may not be exceptions, but an extension of American rule.

We seem only to learn what a shitshow we've made in foreign regions at the cost of other peoples' lives and countries.

Friday cat blogging

Erudite Partner thinks she has laid out the fiber she plans to spin to consider the color possibilities. Morty thinks she's created a fine spot where he can display the elegance of his gray coat.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Yet another amazing woman in this Congress

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of El Paso invites colleagues to the border. This dates from January, but seems equally relevant today. Escobar came to politics via local progressive activism.

We don't usually know the name of our own Congresscrtter, much less one from some faraway district. But such an amazing crew of accomplished women are now navigating the unfriendly halls of power in DC that the least we can do is meet some of them. Who knows what their future may bring.

Another in this series of introductions to rising women pols.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Housing scarcity is about theft from lower wage workers

The Times published this as part of its ongoing campaign to shame the San Francisco area into building more housing at higher density. Guess what? They are right. We need a lot more affordable housing.

But what ought to be equally obvious is that this illustrates that the distribution of goodies in the tech economy is out of whack. That guy in the suit is simply taking too much of the pie. (Note they make him a lawyer who presumably adds some recognizable value to the ecosystem rather than a tech bro peddling his latest brain fart.) As long as society requires janitors and gardeners and bus drivers and nurses and teachers ... the capitalist bargain has been that the winners would pay them enough to live. Not to live like the high flyers, but to live.

If you are going build an economy where new millionaires are minted every minute, you are going to have to pay the support staff enough to participate, at some level, in the necessities of life. Companies won't like that, but it is the cost of soaring entrepreneurial opportunity.

Solving the housing shortage in the Bay has to include redistributing some of the new wealth among a broader community. That should be obvious, but the chorus of critics routinely skip that part of the equation.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

White Night Riot anniversary musings

May 21, forty years ago, was indeed an interesting evening.

Like so many others, the news that a jury had let Dan White off with a slap on the wrist hit me hard. It was uncontested that the ex-cop had murdered Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in their City Hall offices the previous November. How could this miscarriage of justice have happened? Had the jury really bought the "Twinkie defense"? White's lawyers had contended that the former supervisor was depressed and had been binging on junk food, hence should win a reduced verdict of "voluntary manslaughter" because of "diminished capacity."

Thousands gathered in the Castro/Upper Market area and marched downtown. Many others rushed to Civic Center Plaza from wherever we had been working. We were angry. And we were frightened. Did this verdict mean that police officers, some of whom had fundraised for White's defense, could simply kill a "homo" with impunity? It certainly seemed that way.

And so, the crowd was not about to just listen to speakers. Besides, no one could be heard amid the shouting. First the City Hall facade was attacked; ornamental iron work which people pulled off with bare hands made great weapons for breaking glass. Then police cars lined up on the north side of Civic Center Plaza began to go up in flames; we made quite a nice little bonfire.

I wrote up the ensuing melee for the Lesbian Tide, a journal out of Los Angeles with national aspirations. I think I even got paid. Here's that story:

Monday, May 20, 2019

It's not density that city people hate; it's housing injustice

The national media is full of stories about how coastal California needs more houses, but -- for reasons pundits treat as either cupidity or stupidity -- we resist efforts to build what we obviously need. The collapse last week of this year's attempt to pass state Senator Scott Wiener's bill set off another predictable round. SB 50's essence was to allow more building near public transit lines, though there were plenty of devilish details. This, from the NY Times, is a representative specimen, irrefutable on big picture analysis, uninformed on the nitty-gritty level where politics plays out:

Over the past eight years, the San Francisco Bay Area has added about 676,000 jobs and 176,000 housing units. The entirely predictable result has been a surge in rents and home prices along with a rising homeless problem that has jetloads of tourists convinced that one of the richest places on earth is actually a dystopia of misery and destitution. Despite its reputation for all things liberal, California has the highest poverty rate in the country — about one in five people — once the cost of shelter is figured in. This is not for lack of jobs or money, but because its cities are so exclusive that they are essentially turning working-class residents into poor people.

... S.B. 50, an ambitious but divisive bill, was shelved until next year. The bill would expand the state’s housing supply by forcing cities to allow apartment buildings in the low-slung bungalow neighborhoods on which the state was built. ...

Each year state legislators go through a Groundhog Day routine in which they introduce dozens of new housing bills that are full of technicalities and minutiae but fall into two basic categories. The first are bills that make it easier to build housing so that the long-term shortage can be rectified. The second are bills that provide more money for subsidized affordable housing and expand tenant protections so that people who already have affordable homes don’t lose them. ...Where does it go? All we can count on for now is that next year will feature a renewed fight over S.B. 50. And dozens of other housing bills. And the housing problem getting worse.

Like a lot of San Franciscans, I'm thoroughly convinced that we need more housing and that means more density. I'd go to bat for a believable plan. Yet I am not at all on board for Wiener's bill; in fact it looks like a con job to me.
  • The bill's assumptions about developer behavior are nonsense in the San Francisco context. Roll back local controls and you will merely allow more condos for rich people . Even the Times has figured that out.

    As land costs rise, developers can make more money building at the top end of the market and ignoring the middle.

  • If the state legislature is going to weigh in on urban housing and density, they need to get their feet off city's necks and repeal pre-emption measures that effectively outlaw effective rent control (Costa-Hawkins) and incentivize clearing existing apartment buildings of renters to sell them off as condos (Ellis). They also need to offer more money for public transit if they are going to dump more people into existing systems.
  • It's hard to take seriously a commitment to equity when suburbs are incentivized not to develop public transit because to do so would mean they had to house more people.
  • It's hard to take seriously a law that's been written to let Marin County off the hook for its density provisions. Look, I love all the green spaces over there, but Marin is the 13th richest county in the country according to the American Community Survey. It could do more to house more people.
  • If some sort of grand bargain between localities and the state is going to happen, it probably needs a more trusted broker than Senator Wiener. He's my rep; he's been kicking around San Francisco politics for over a decade -- and he's never seemed to meet a private builder development project that he didn't like.
Tim Redmond who has been observing these housing fights for decades laid out at 48 Hills what it might take to break the logjam on increasing density in the San Francisco Bay Area.

... Imagine the billions of dollars that will pour into the state coffers with the next round of [tech] IPOs. Why isn’t Wiener asking that all of that money go to stabilize and protect existing vulnerable communities – including the construction of a vast amount of (sure, dense) affordable housing, served by new, state-funded transit?

The [San Francisco Board of Supervisors] are asking the right questions. I doubt Wiener would accept the type of amendments that would make his bill acceptable – and if he did, I doubt the Legislature, which is under the thumb of the real-estate industry, would accept them.

For anyone who has read this far: why am I writing this? Housing policy is not one of my regular topics. But irritation with the smug superiority with which national media approach our devastating housing situation has me thoroughly pissed off. If you want to hear from people who work in this arena everyday, let me suggest San Francisco's Housing Rights Committee.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Let's start with a little information

Since our misogynist, Christianist ignoramuses are determined to preserve fetal heartbeats, it's probably worth a short explanation of what this phenomenon is that they hold so dear:

... at six weeks of pregnancy, an ultrasound can detect "a little flutter in the area that will become the future heart of the baby," said Dr. Saima Aftab, medical director of the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami. This flutter happens because the group of cells that will become the future "pacemaker" of the heart gain the capacity to fire electrical signals, she said.

But the heart is far from fully formed at this stage, and the "beat" isn't audible; if doctors put a stethoscope up to a woman's belly this early on in her pregnancy, they would not hear a heartbeat, Aftab told Live Science. (What's more, it isn't until the eighth week of pregnancy that the baby is called a fetus; prior to that, it's still considered an embryo, according to the Cleveland Clinic.)

It's been only in the last few decades that doctors have even been able to detect this flutter at six weeks, thanks to the use of more-sophisticated ultrasound technologies, Aftab said. Previously, the technology wasn't advanced enough to detect the flutter that early on in pregnancy.


It's not about the flutter; it's about keeping women down and punishing those who stick their heads up. It always has been.

Angry women matter.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Saturday scenes and scenery: Redwood Park

San Franciscans: does that name ring a bell? Maybe it's in Marin County or the East Bay hills? Nope. Redwood Park is the name of a private urban oasis at the base of Transamerica Pyramid adjacent to the city's financial district. Its builders even trucked in some actual redwoods from the Santa Cruz mountains.
But mostly they went in for antic delights.
There are bronze jumping frogs ...

bronze jumping children ...

and a memorial plaque for Bummer and Lazarus, dogs who romped about the area in the city's early days.

All encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Media consumption diet: podcasts

I haven't written one of these for awhile, so why not? Anyone who reads here will have noticed that I consume a lot of books in audio form. Of late, I've found myself "reading" quite a few serialized podcasts.

Serialized literature was, after all, what built the emerging magazine culture of the late 19th and early 20th century. Podcasts are another booming new form of media, still finding its potential and consequently still often imaginative. I don't go looking for serials, but the same outfits where I find weekly podcasts seem to be producing them. Obviously, their creators believe the extended format gives them additional tools with which to explore their topics.

Last year I enjoyed FiveThirtyEight's The Gerrymandering Project, which explored and explained this moderately technical subject as six podcasts over six weeks. Anyone looking for a solid explantion of an important political challenge should listen up.

Also last year, I listened to fourteen episodes of The Wilderness from Crooked Media, which offered Jon Favreau and the other Obama boys' take on how the Democratic Party lost its way before and after the 2016 election. Since this has been very much my subject over decades, I found it uneven, though ambitious and more broad than I had expected. It was meant as fodder and encouragement for mobilization for the 2018 elections and probably served its purpose well.

These days I'm on episode three of The Asset from The Moscow Project. It explains "Trump's history with Russia, from his extensive business dealings with Russian oligarchs to his presidential campaign and the investigations that have sent some of his closest associates to prison." Three episodes in, I'm appreciating the orderly narrative structure they are giving to previously reported events and connections. That's vital storytelling.

A miscellany of podcasts I often listen to:

Press the Button: National security from the point of view of people who know that war will not make us safer.

The Weeds: All policy all the time. Matt Yglesias is snotty and jaded, but insightful. Dara Lind is simply the best immigration reporter around. Jane Coaston brings genuine familiarity with right wing opinion.

Ezra Klein Show: Klein has been writing a book on what the hell is going on with our dysfunctional politics; his resulting interviews with all sorts of thinkers including conservatives who aren't mouth-breathers have been fascinating. He's very good at conversation. I don't find him so interesting when his explorations shift to woo-woo stuff, but your mileage may vary.

The Lawfare Podcast: Sometimes stuffy and pretentious, other times a thought-provoking offering from the legal website at the Brookings Institution. They are good at presenting recordings of smartly abridged Congressional testimony -- there are few experiences quite like listening to Michael Cohen while running.

Deep State Radio: Informed, charming, slightly miserable commentators commiserate about the condition our condition is in. David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake, and Ed Luce are the core.

Amicus with Dahlia Lithwick: All things Supreme Court. Informative.

Politics Podcast at FiveThirtyEight: Data guru Nate Silver, reporter Clare Malone, and a revolving cast of others kick around what can be discerned about election horseraces. They are usually dispassionate and often accurate.

The Good Fight with Yascha Mounk: A global exploration of "populism" from a European-inflected political science perspective.

Trumpcast: Yascha Mounk is here too, along with journalists Virginia Heffernan and León Krauze. Interviews about all things Trump and US politics and culture with interesting guests. Short, which sometimes entertaining, sometimes encouraging.

On the Media: Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield were in radio before podcasts were cool and these fully produced explorations of whatever catches their left-leaning, often skeptical fancies achieve unmatched journalistic professionalism -- at least in this list.

With Friends Like These: Ana Marie Cox is self-revealing, oh-so-woke -- and sometimes wise, while presenting a diverse cast of guests. I think she benefits from having escaped the nation's media hubs by decamping to Minneapolis.

Friday cat blogging

Time for a little snooze.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A diagnosis still on the lookout for a cure

How Democracies Die by Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt is a 2018 book that already feels dated in 2019 -- and not in an encouraging way.

Their introduction describes our situation:

We know that extremist demagogues emerge from time to time in all societies, even in healthy democracies. The United States has had its share of them, including Henry Ford, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, and George Wallace. ... Isolating popular extremists requires political courage. But when fear, opportunism, or miscalculation leads established parties to bring extremists into the mainstream, democracy is imperiled.

These authors offer a simple list of signs they think should enable us to identify a politician whose rise endangers democracy. Donald Trump exhibits all their markers.

Four Key Indicators of Authoritarian Behavior

  1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game
  2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents
  3. Toleration or encouragement of violence
  4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media

Trump showed all of these in 2018 and seems on a rampage this year to surpasses his previous transgressions.

We are no longer in need of diagnosis here -- Trump and his Republican enablers will eradicate democracy in order to keep power if they can get away with it. They can tolerate neither a more just multi-racial society nor demands for an equitable economy; if these advance even a little, they see only loss of their privilege. The question is now, as it has been since November 2016 is, will we, the majority, let them get away with it?

Do these wise social scientists, who have studied the historical and international evidence, have any suggestions for aroused non-elite people who need to preserve as much democratic space as possible?

That's not so clear.

The fundamental problem facing American democracy remains extreme partisan division -- one fueled not just by policy differences but by deeper sources of resentment, including racial and religious differences. America's great polarization preceded the Trump presidency, and it is very likely to endure beyond it.

We -- communities of color, queers, many women, young people who hope for a future -- are the polarization that motivates overthrow of democracy. Our freedom is Republicans' nightmare.

In 2018 we showed we can assemble the numbers to hold the line -- if we pay attention. It won't get easier until it does.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Are we about to get John Bolton's war on Iran?

It's been a little over a year since that old war hawk tucked in as National Security Adviser to an ignorant, impetuous president. Having done their best to break up the alliance agreements that were keeping some uneasy constraint on ever larger conflicts in a dangerous region, now we're getting the sort of headlines we can expect from a rogue regime in Washington bent on catastrophe. "U.S. orders ‘non-emergency’ government employees to leave Iraq". "Skeptical U.S. Allies Resist Trump’s New Claims of Threats From Iran." Here the receding empire goes again ... ginning up a war to distract from our fractures at home.

The world knows better.

But European military allies have questioned whether the threat level against U.S. assets has shifted in recent weeks.

“We haven’t seen anything convincing yet, but tensions are definitely rising,” said one Western diplomat ...

Washington Post

... a senior British military official told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that he saw no increased risk from Iran or allied militias in Iraq or Syria.

New York Times

Of course, in 2003, the world knew better as well, when the George W. Bush administration was making up "intelligence" to support its Iraq invasion. Fat lot of good that did millions of Iraqis and so many others killed or left with societies torn apart; fat lot of good that did the thousands of US military personnel murdered or maimed in service of monsters like Dick Cheney and John Bolton last time around.

Let's hope some combination of Trump's feral, canny timidity and world opprobrium hold the USofA back this time around.
In terms of push back for peace coming from people within this big, confused country, the moment feels more like the awful days immediately after the 9/11 attacks than the eve of Iraq. Even then, a few of us knew our ignorant, overconfident government was on the way to making a hash of Afghanistan (how'd that turn out?). Two years later, by the eve of the Iraq war millions rallied across the globe against the disaster. And empire, led by the likes of Bolton, could not be deterred. The mass peace movement infrastructure that was laboriously built in the '00s has atrophied.

Oh sure, small dedicated historic peace organizations carry on honorably as they have for decades. In Congress, Win Without War has labored to reduce US support for the Saudi war on Yemen that is one of the world's current most extreme human atrocities.

But effectual peace agitation has to break into the actual existing political conversation if it is to achieve any mass heft. And that means, at this moment, making sure that aspiring Democratic presidents ALL put themselves on the right side of history, against a US attack on Iran.

Just Security launched a useful initiative yesterday. They reminded us that Democrats have been to this movie before.

Many Democrats still prominent in public political life voted against the [Iraq] war. Dick Durbin voted no. Bernie Sanders voted no. Robert Menendez voted no. Jack Reed voted no. Nancy Pelosi voted no. Ben Cardin voted no. Patrick Leahy voted no. Patty Murray voted no. Debbie Stabenow voted no. Ron Wyden voted no.

Many Democrats still prominent in public life voted for the war. Joe Biden voted yes. Chuck Schumer voted yes. Steny Hoyer voted yes. Eliot Engel voted yes. Adam Smith voted yes. Adam Schiff voted yes.

The Just Security petition aims to pressure these luminaries to get an impending threat of unnecessary, unwinnable war right this time around.

Most importantly, this initiative aims to pressure Joe Biden to get it right this time -- and to disqualify Biden for the Democratic nomination if he fails to oppose yet another US war. We'll see.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Just noting ...

Kevin Drum points out that Trump's "trade war" with China -- dude needed some pseudo-combat somewhere? -- hurts poorer people more than his fellow kleptocrats.
Like everything he and the GOPers favor ...

Monday, May 13, 2019

Life, death, and colliding cultures in the 'hood

Down the block from us, a young man sleeping in a car was shot a couple of weeks ago. According to media reports, the killer pulled up and departed on a bicycle. There are no subsequent reports that anyone has been charged.

A day or so after, Erudite Partner and I checked in with each other: were we scared by this? Not really. Maybe we should be, but this event felt both horrifying and depressingly ordinary. There have long been too many young men with guns and mysterious grudges around here. They exist in their world and we in ours; any threat to us would be an accidental intersection of separate worlds. I worry more that frustrated drivers navigating the congested street will hit a child leaving the school.

After the shooting, as is common around here, friends of the dead man set up a somewhat forlorn memorial in the style of the local young.
And then the neighborhood's underlying tensions kicked in. According to the Examiner,

Less than 24 hours after [Jonathan] Bello’s death, The City received an anonymous complaint requesting the clearing of a memorial erected in his honor — flowers, some 15 candles, a cross, several empty liquor bottles and the words “RIP Dae Dae” scrawled in bright orange and black lettering on the public sidewalk where Bello was targeted.

As of yesterday, the memorial is still standing, but a block resident/neighbor hit with a public nuisance notice from the city expressed his frustrations with some of his current neighbors.

“I think it’s outrageous to demand of us — to be conscripted into taking down a memorial and erasing this tragic event and the suffering of his friends and family as if the residue of a murder is just some kind of blight,” said Ben Rosenfeld, a resident of 115 Bartlett St...

... “There’s already layers of extreme disrespect baked into the dynamics of extremely rich people invading the working class community before you even arrive at the crossroads of asking relatively new neighbors to take down a memorial,” said Rosenfeld, who has lived in the Mission for 15 years and said that a lot of “gentrification issues play out on my doorstep.”

I too wouldn't want to be asked by the city to cross the border between worlds, because that's what a clean-up order in this situation amounts to. Where possible, we have to let each other be. That's no solution, but thoughtless interventions seem likely to make an inequitable reality worse.

Sunday, May 12, 2019


These women, members of BYP100, raised $4000 to bail out mothers on this day. Awesome work.


The proud mother here was my grandmother, Amelia Minerva Roberts Sidway.

The two girls were her third and fourth offspring, as two little boys had died in infancy.

My mother, Martha Roberts Sidway Adams, is the chubby two year old; the more poised child is her sister Margaret.

The year is probably 1910.

I have no explanation for the hat.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

San Francisco has always been a boomtown ...

where daring fortune hunters came to make and their leave their mark. Meet William Alexander Leidesdorff, Jr.
The enterprising immigrant from the Caribbean did awfully well for himself and became one of the city's founders.
That story is on a par with today's tech moguls. Today the gentleman has an alley named for him.

I passed Leidesdorff's statue in the financial district while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, May 10, 2019

What to do if you love tigers?

Eve Andrews muses on the new report on how human activity is driving millions of species into extinction.

I have a friend who’s also a huge tiger fan, and he suggests the punishment for poaching should be putting the poacher in a cage fight with a tiger, but (a) I don’t see this getting a lot of political support, and (b) it ignores the fact that solving environmental problems often requires us to care about other justice issues, like poverty. How can you tell a person that they have to stop trying to live off the land around them because the tigers have to live? How would you convince a poacher that it’s fair they’ll be jailed or shot for pursuing a means to feed their family?

And in any event, punitive measures to protect tigers only go so far. Amping up punishment of deforestation or poaching or wood-collecting without doing anything to provide alternatives to the human needs driving those things is ineffective and ethically questionable. Fighting biodiversity die-off likely means also working on social welfare, better fuels, and increased agricultural productivity, Blomqvist says, adding that the benefits “are so much wider than the effects on conservation.”

So what might that look like? Governments and NGOs can invest in productivity-increasing measures for farmers so that they can increase how much they grow without having to expand their land into forested territory. Organizations can invest in getting more and more households onto electrical grids so that they’re not taking wood from the forest.

Additionally, policies that support indigenous land rights in regions where endangered species live can help preserve biodiversity. Indigenous tribes’ knowledge of the natural resources around them spans generations and tends to be stronger than that of government organizations. ...

As Alice Walker once proclaimed at a 1982 anti-nuke service at Grace Cathedral, "only justice can stop a curse."

Friday cat blogging

While most precincts I explore while Walking San Francisco reveal no cats at all, every once in a while I meet a bumper crop. All these animals live in one obscure corner of District 11, far south of the city's downtown.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

A challenge: can we learn to value all of us?

“Race isn’t about black people, necessarily,” says Eddie Glaude Jr. “It’s about the way whiteness works to disfigure and distort our democracy, and the ideals that animate our democracy.”

Ezra Klein podcast

The assumptions and material consequences of unconstrained white supremacy are the subject of this 2016 book by a Princeton professor of Religion and African American Studies. Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul is a hell of an indictment of our broken core.

Dr. Glaude spells out why the national financial implosion of 2008 should properly be labeled the "Great Black Depression." Black homeowners were defrauded of the little stake they had in US prosperity though mass foreclosure on mortgages designed to fail -- profitably -- by and for the bankers. He insists this ugly outcome and government's failure to protect black victims arose from the "value gap."

We talk about the achievement gap in education or the wealth gap between white Americans and other groups, but the value gap reflects something more basic: no matter our stated principles or how much progress we think we've made, white people are valued more than others in this country, and that fact continues to shape the life chances of millions of Americans. The value gap is in our national DNA.

One of the debilitating consequences of the value gap is that black public commentators like Professor Glaude learn to modulate what they'll say.

The fear of white fear distorts black political behavior. ... I can't call Bill O'Reilly a dumbass (at least not in public or on television). No matter the horror of the moment, our anger must be overcome ...

The history of blackness in America since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s as Glaude lays it out consists of a series of destructive circumstances by which black people have been muzzled and muzzled themselves -- through hagiography that has neutered Dr. King, through cooptation by Democrats including President Obama, through neglect and destruction of black institutions including colleges and churches.

Yet Glaude comes away from this sad catalogue still hoping for a "revolution of values." The young people who rose up in Ferguson, Missouri when a white police department let Michael Brown's murdered body lie in the sun for four hours, all the Black Lives Matter eruptions, and Rev. William Barber's Forward Together "moral movement" -- these still inspire him.

A revolution of value should change what constitutes success and individual initiative. The value of human beings should never be diminished in the pursuit of profit or in the name of some ideology. ...

... Americans have to live together, in the deepest sense of the phrase -- to make a life together that affords everyone (and I do mean everyone) a real chance. This can happen only when we experience genuine connectedness, when the well-being of African Americans is bound up with any consideration the well-being of the nation. When we are not asked to disappear, and instead have the space to reach for our best selves. ...

We have to say, without qualification, BlackLivesMatter! Obviously, we know we matter. The phrase isn't about asserting our humanity to folks who deny it. The voices of our mighty dead shout back that the price of the ticket has been paid already. No. BlackLivesMatter reminds white people that their lives do not matter more than others. It is a direct challenge to white supremacy.

In 2019, this reads as a very 2016 book, written to help black people move on from the disappointments of the Obama era into yet more US politics as usual, black erasure as usual, by white supremacy as usual. Some of it reads off center as African Americans found themselves confronting not another neoliberal, but instead a neo-Confederate Attorney General and a neo-Nazi President. (Dr. Glaude discussed some of this in the podcast quoted abve.) But the core holds. The only path forward for American democracy remains eradicating the value gap.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Study points toward a future we can work and hope for

The American Muslim Poll 2019 from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding has been getting some media attention, mostly because of the finding captured in this chart:
This seems to me an important piece of data -- but not really so surprising, merely showing that two communities under the gun in our white nationalist environment recognize affinities and also the location of likely allies. That is, U.S. Muslims and Jews aren't dumb.

But there's lots more to this poll and it seemed like a worthwhile project to comment on some aspects of it:
  • I had a hard time locating my tribe in it. The section on methodology describes one of the groups polled as "self-identified Protestants (parsing out white Evangelicals)". Does that cohort include both white mainliners and Black churchgoers? They don't say. Was the sample size just too small to break out; if they had broken out Blacks from whites, would the findings been any different?

    In the data summaries, "Protestant" attitudes toward U.S. Muslims seem always to split right down the middle of the distribution between Islamophobia and affirmation of others as is illustrated in the chart above. A similar down-the-middle positioning shows in "Protestant" electoral inclinations and evaluation of the nation's direction. Might my tribe be deeply divided between white Republican nationalist and Democratic inclusivity wings whose attitudes wash out in these statistics? I wonder.
  • Political party identification among Muslims shows fissures familiar in our society--except when it comes to age. As Muslims get older, they become more likely to vote Democratic, at least nowadays.

    As with the general public, party alignment varies by race in the Muslim community. White Muslims (25%) are more likely than Asian Muslims (9%) to vote Republican and about six times as likely to vote Republican as Black Muslims (4%). Uniquely, Muslims’ voting pattern diverges from the general public—as they age, the general population leans more Republican whereas Muslim Americans continue to identify as strongly Democratic.

  • I found this surprising. Education in comparative religion succeeds in promoting interfaith respect.

    ... it is worth noting that knowing something about Islam is even more powerful a predictor of tolerance toward Muslims than knowing a Muslim personally, suggesting that knowledge of the faith helps dispel generalized tropes about the people even more than knowing one good individual member of that group, who can be dismissed as an exception or “one of the good ones.”

    Maybe interfaith education is more potent than I would have surmised.
  • I'm not convinced that this observation is deeply supported in the data, but you got to love it. Participation in #Resistance breaks down barriers and begins healing.

    The majority of all three major racial groups know a Muslim, but Hispanic Americans (63%) are more likely to know Muslims than white Americans. Hispanic Americans (39%) are also more likely to have a close Muslim friend than white Americans (21%). It is important to note that Muslims and Hispanic Americans are both groups that are a target of the current administration’s divisive anti-immigrant rhetoric. Resistance movements that demand “No Ban, No Wall” may have helped bring these two groups together.

The report is highly readable and available online to anyone curious.