Sunday, December 27, 2020

Blog break

As we all know, computers and the internet are wonderful, until the intricate connection to the world they give us is disrupted.

I find myself dealing with one of those hiccups. 

It appears I'm going to have to devote several days to sorting out my internet identity. If we have corresponded by email, you might receive an update from me with a new email address. Or not, if I'm fortunate.

I had already thought to give myself a holiday break from here. Now I need that blog break. 

It's not that I don't have enough to do, what with a weekly delivery for the Mission Food Hub and phoning into Georgia with UniteHERE for Senate candidates Reverend Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Neither hunger nor the struggle for the minimal preconditions for justice takes a break -- certainly not as Trump takes his revenge on the country for not re-electing him.

Additionally I have about 500 photos waiting to be processed and culled for Walking San Francisco. That's my idea of relaxation.

Blog will be off for a few days and return in January.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Holiday decorations for a neighborhood

It's no particular household's tree. It sits on a median strip in an obscure corner of the city. The red balls are welcoming.

It's San Francisco. There's an historic district, warehouses past their prime, a private marker for a motorcycle club, and a cul-de-sac.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Joyous Christmas to all

We all need hope for light, for peace, for love. For all the contradictions around us, it's to the credit of our sometimes cruel and vacant society that we elevate such a holiday and celebration! Let us delight!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

On the theology of inclusion

After spending several days mulling it over, I am writing to recommend what I found a very good book which makes a plausible and intricate case from Christian history with which I resonate strongly. And yet I also found this excellent volume slightly unsatisfying.

Professor of Religion and Ethical Studies at Willamette University Stephen J Patterson offers The Forgotten Creed: Christianity's Original Struggle against Bigotry, Slavery, and Sexism. Writing in the intellectual lineage of such theologians as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and John Dominic Crossan, Patterson explicates the ancient text fragment that we meet in the Apostle Paul's letter to the early Christian communities in central Anatolia, modern Turkey:
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus,
for as many of you who have been baptized have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile;
there is no slave nor free;
there is no male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28
Paul's letter was written before any of the Gospel books about Jesus' life and teachings; Patterson contends this fragment is older still, existing before Paul's travels, probably a creedal statement used when people joined these communities through baptism.

And he insists its intent is every bit as broad and radical as we might assume if we did not associate it with a Christian history in which laying down the law about right relationship to God and drawing boundaries about who is in and who is out were such prominent features.

He dissects each of its clauses. He explores their context in the first century Roman empire and concludes Paul was not trying to erase Jewish history:
[This] creed was not originally about cultural obliteration. "There is no Jew or Greek" stands alongside "so slave or free" and "no male or female." These are not distinctions of religion and culture, but of power and privilege. In the world of Greek and Roman antiquity, free men had power and agency, slaves and women did not.  ... The creed was originally about the fact that race, class, and gender are typically used to divide the human race into us and them to the advantage of us. It aimed to declare there is no us, no them. We are all children of God. It was about solidarity, not cultural obliteration.
He regrets that
... in the long history of Christian theology, spanning centuries and continents, this creed played virtually no role. How could it? The church became a citadel of patriarchy and enforced this regime wherever it spread. It also endorsed and encouraged the taking of slaves from the people it colonized. And within a hundred years of its writing, "no Jew or Greek" became simply "no Jews," as the church first separated from, then rebelled against its Jewish patrimony, eventually attempting patricide.
He points out that this ancient formula is very different from the carefully negotiated, imperially endorsed definitions of right faith that came to be named "creeds" in Christian religious practice.
[This] creed says nothing a creed should say. It is not about God. Nor is it about the nature of Jesus Christ or how he saves us from our sins. It is about us. And that is perhaps why few have ever really believed it. It is easier, it turns out, to believe in a higher power, a God, a savior, who will save us from our sins of hatred and violence than to think, to believe that human beings are capable of the miracle of solidarity: of reaching out beyond one's own interest to see the interests of another, to live with and for another in the hope only of a common redemption from the tears in the human fabric that have come from difference. ... There is no us, no them.
Patterson's scholarship is accessible and impressive. I can believe his exposition. I highly recommend this book.

• • •

So why have I had a hard time writing about this? It comes down to finding Patterson's way knowing not how I approach these matters. And I don't think I'm alone in that. A little history ...

Recently I was trying to recall for a friend how it came to be that today, at least in its official aspirations, The Episcopal Church, the Christian sub-branch to which I belong, came to affirm the full inclusion of women and LGBT people in all the rites of membership and leadership in the church. 

This required a process which felt long, fraught, and belated as we lived it. First women and queers were just there and not about to be silent about our presence. This came as a shock to much of mid-20th century Episcopal conventional orthodoxy, but the brave gender pioneers didn't go away.

And through a succession of internal institutional struggles and with some re-writing of our internal practices, we inched toward welcoming everyone who wanted to come into our particular practice of life in Jesus.

At every step along the way, our scandalized comrades in institutional religion would scream: But you haven't done the theology!!!

This wasn't true; worthy, serious, erudite theologians "did the theology" of women's and queer inclusion over and over. It was just that those who were made uncomfortable didn't read it or like it.

And meanwhile, faithful uppity women and LGBT folk continued to hang around, and participate, and find comfort and truth in the actually existing life of the church. (That goes for many Christian branchlets, I just focus on the one I lived this among.)

Here's a secret: the uppity intruders didn't usually read the theology either. Oh, perhaps occasionally we did. But it wasn't the excellent, urgent, writings of the theologians that made us able to approach God through a changing Church. It was the lived experience within that Church and among its people, in a community that provided us with the assurance that we were, despite all bigotry and suspicion, indeed loved by God.

Patterson is well and truly "doing the theology" and I'm glad. And this still is not the bedrock that does it for me. But I'm delighted that it does for some people! If curious, check out The Forgotten Creed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A little more Stacey Abrams wisdom

How did a former Georgia state Senate minority leader and defeated gubernatorial candidate in a red state become a nationally known progressive Democratic star? We know she is one -- but how'd she get there? It wasn't by winning (statewide) elections or by mastery of sound bites in national media. 

Stacey Abrams' prominence started with -- and still largely rests upon -- her service as an evangelist for smart grassroots organizing as a route to political power within our quasi-democratic system.

This month, thousands of Democrats are trying to apply the lessons that she and her extended network -- Fair Fight, the New Georgia Project, and many local groups -- have perfected over a decade.

A while back Abrams gave the incomparable feminist journalist Rebecca Traister an interview full of organizing tips derived from her Georgia work, a few of which I want to share here. Says Abrams:

Having volunteers is great, but having experienced volunteers is vital. So when someone learns how to door-knock, when someone learns how to organize and get other people to work with them, that is gold. When campaigns are intentional about building that muscle memory in places where it hasn’t existed before or worse, where it’s atrophied, that changes the outcome. What [Atlanta Congressional candidate] Jon Ossoff did in 2017 by investing in communities that had not been contacted in previous elections, what I did in 2018, absolutely helped support what [Atlanta Congressional candidate] Lucy McBath was doing in the Sixth in 2018. It’s one of the reasons she had an even easier time this cycle of winning. Because you’re building capacity among voters who become more engaged.

Jon contacted this whole group of voters called the unlisted — people who don’t vote, so they really get pushed outside of any communication about politics writ large. But when you go to them and say, “We think you matter,” that changes the dynamic. It doesn’t guarantee a voter, but it guarantees an eyeball. Those people got contacted by Jon’s campaign, and by my campaign, and then again in 2020. So we’re growing new voters: low-propensity voters who may move from low propensity or no voting into moderate propensity, or maybe we create a super-voter.

... It’s important that we understand that voter suppression being stopped is why they are so mad. Republicans had a plan for stopping voters from getting to the polls. We beat them in multiple states and flipped the outcome. The margins are small because the outcome can be undone very quickly.

... we have to invest in people who understand the places where they live. I understand Georgia, but I only understand Georgia because I worked with Georgians who were here before I got here and who will be here after I’m dead. There is absolutely a necessity to build in place.

Thanks to all this organizing work that has gone before, two Democratic candidates have a chance to win Senate seats on January 5 -- and the whole national Democratic organizing cohort is on the ground and on the phones to get it done. Thanks Stacey!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

How about a little Christmas spirit?

I can only hope the good Roman Catholic Cardinal of Washington isn't responsible for the headline on his oped about why he is suing to further open churches in the capital that have been restricted during of pandemic. However the headline finds an echo in the text, so I'm afraid we can take it as his. 

He's whining. 

We recently brought legal action to protect the free exercise of religion in the nation’s capital. This was a last resort, as we could no longer bear the burden of turning away the faithful from Mass due to D.C.’s 50-person cap on religious services when big-box stores, retailers, and even liquor stores and many other venues continued to operate without similar limits. The right of the faithful to assemble for religious services is one of our most cherished constitutional legacies, and we maintain it should be treated as an “essential” activity — just as D.C. regards shopping and so many other activities as essential.
He goes on to report that the congregations he leads have conformed to social distancing practices, required masks, and limited their attendance, in accordance with the D.C. pandemic rules (since rescinded). But somehow, those measures seem to him an illegitimate infringement on his liberty.

Where is the generosity or confidence in the goodness of creation in this? In a time of collective need, a time when satisfying individual wants risks the health of the community, isn't it the proper role of religious institutions to be even more conscientious about the common good than secular institutions? 

We don't expect BevMo or Safeway to sacrifice for our health (or even the health of their workers). But can't we expect better of religious bodies, especially when some accommodations have been made? Not very graceful.

All out for the Georgia Senate races

Stacey Abrams rallied over 700 UniteHERE canvassers and remote phonebankers this morning over zoom.

"You are going to knock on one million doors! If you have to, irritate the dickens out of the people you meet. Ask them what they want and let them know we can get it done. We turned Georgia blue and we can do it one more time."

Walking door to door this time of year is cold work.

Canvassers and phone callers alike are learning about Georgia.

Walkers on the ground are out from dawn to dusk. We know -- if we want more coronavirus help from the federal government, if we want health care for everyone, if we want a government that respects workers and democracy -- we have to get this done.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Seasonal musings

Today's conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, of the Winter Solstice, and of the approaching completion of another Christian season of Advent all put me in mind of these lines from Madeleine L'Engle. 

Into the Darkest Hour

It was a time like this,

war & tumult of war,

a horror in the air.


Hungry yawned the abyss –

and yet there came the star

and the child most wonderfully there. 


It was a time like this

of fear & lust for power,

license & greed and blight –

and yet the Prince of bliss came into the darkest hour

in quiet & silent light. ...

I am fond of the Advent season. Waiting in joyful, disciplined hope for more light, for a better day, seems the most human of conditions. 

But I also always wonder each December, what would Advent mean in the southern hemisphere, when the seasonal shift approaching would be mid-summer's longest day and shortest night?

Maybe if climate change is not mitigated, humans will have to learn to wait at the approach of summer solstice for a gradual waning of temperatures that threaten life itself?

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Vaccine delight and other concerns

Dr. Jane Jenab displays her vaccination record.

She is an ER doc who has been treating COVID patients for months. Her relief is profound:

I won’t lie, I teared up several times on the way to the hospital, and definitely shed a tear during the actual vaccination. So incredibly relieved. I’ve been holding on by my fingernails to make it through until we had a vaccine, and now we do. It’s hard to express how grateful I am. Hopefully I will live to continue to serve my fellow humans for a whole lot longer now.

There has been so much darkness and so much death this year. There have been so many days when I have struggled to find any semblance of hope. Today, there is hope. We have lost over 300,000 Americans, including countless healthcare workers. For all those who didn’t make it to see this day, we will carry on, carry the torch, and keep fighting the fight. Thank you to the scientists who have brought us these vaccines. My fervent hope is that everyone has access to them soon. Onward, friends. I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

... For those who have asked about side effects from the vaccine, I am about 24 hours out from my injection and so far, I have some mild soreness at the injection site and in the deltoid muscle, similar to tetanus shots in the past. Otherwise, I feel perfectly fine.

Another friend works in a hospital. News that she is eligible for one of the first batch of doses forced her to ponder the justice of vaccine allocations.

WE'RE GETTING THE VACCINE TOMORROW!!!! Shot 1/2. ... I am so freaking excited - and grateful. Also, I feel a little guilty about it. I mean, the system just isn't sophisticated enough to make sure that risk/vulnerability is calculated precisely ... I'm "just" a chaplain - I'm behind nurses and doctors and many others in line, which is as it should be. I'm ahead of people who sit at desks, which is also as it should be.
I am in the hospital 4 days a week, seeing (presumably!) non-COVID patients all the time and entering a COVID room about once a week, and meeting with immediate family of COVID patients usually multiple times a week and I'll be honest, I don't feel 100% confident in the screening, in terms of what their exposure is etc. See? I feel guilty enough to talk through my justification for getting this! But anyway - my only choice here is to opt in or out. I'm opting in with tremendous enthusiasm and gratitude!!!!!

 I shared my own concerns about the vaccine priority list previously. I'll get the shot when Kaiser gets around to me, which will be awhile.

We know the Trump administration has broken the bureaucracy's capacity to distribute this life saving intervention fairly and efficiently. We know that rich people and powerful people will find ways to jump the line. Distibution is going to be a train wreck. And still -- we can be amazed and delighted that hope for protection from infection is finally on the way.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Electoral extortion at work

Joe Biden has cut an unusual dual campaign ad for both Democrats -- Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock -- seeking to win U.S. Senate seats in Georgia on January 5. A joint campaign ad for two candidates at once is rare. (I tried to remember when I'd last seen two U.S. Senate races in one state at once -- we had Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer in 1992. Any others come to mind?)

Aside from some unnecessary deference to "the troops" (is Georgia honeycombed with military bases or something?), Biden's pitch is just what it needs to be: if we hope for meaningful federal cash to support a vaccine-enabled recovery from the pandemic, we need a Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Republican evil genius of the Senate, Leader Mitch McConnell, agrees. Audio from a conference call catches him telling current Republican Senators that, despite their tight-fisted inclinations, they have to vote for some kind of cash stimulus before Christmas.

Kelly and David are getting hammered,” explained McConnell.

Kelly (Loeffler) and David (Perdue) are the Georgia GOP Senate candidates and incumbents. All 48 Democratic Senators have been waiting to vote for more aid since May when the House first passed an aid bill. McConnell has said no.

Thanks to the danger that Ossoff and Loefller might prevail, it looks like we the people will get something out of Washington this week. McConnell is being squeezed. But watch out if he retains his majority. If we want real government action in the new year, both Georgia candidates need to win.

Joe Biden did just carry Georgia -- maybe he can help do it again.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Pure joy!

Today our courtesy niece Tara Geraghty-Moats (#6) won the first ever Women's Nordic Combined World Cup competition in Ramsau am Dachstein, Austria. 

For decades women were excluded from the Scandianian-origin sport which starts with a ski jump and concludes with a cross country race.

"Today here in Ramsau was a dream come true, it was something that I was thinking about since I was 10 years old," said the 27-year-old.

"I just kept telling myself I could do it... huge thanks to my team and the FIS (International Ski Federation) for finally inviting the women to the big leagues."...

Women will also compete in the discipline at this year's Nordic World Ski Championships, which are being held in Oberstdorf, Germany, between February 23 and March 7.

However the sport's World Cup season could be very short, as after a series of cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic, Friday's event was the only one left scheduled. (Story via France24)

 Way to go Tara!

Friday cat blogging

Janeway is growing up. Some days she's more cat than kitten. She likes laps, though often she squirms more than sits. She makes it hard to type. As I peck this out with one finger, she's bathing on my legs. When I put her down, she tries to unplug the computer. She is very soft and fearlessly affectionate.

We're all learning to live together. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Might the old war hawk be forced to end some wars?

Erudite Partner has published a retrospective look at the United States' "war on terror" and our still extant forever wars. You can find it at Moyers on Democracy.

With a new administration coming in, we face, again, the question of whether we, and the peoples of the world, will get more of the same from an imperial, militarized, waning superpower. When she is writing these surveys, I often remind her that we had a president --Barack Obama-- whose life experience outside the bubble might have prepared him to attempt to let a bellicose country down gently. But the inertia of great power overcame any instincts he might have had in that direction.

 EP ponders the next phase:

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden will become the president of a country that spends as much on its armed forces, by some counts, as the next 10 countries combined. He’ll inherit responsibility for a nation with a military presence in 150 countries and special-operations deployments in 22 African nations alone. He’ll be left to oversee the still-unfinished, deeply unsuccessful, never-ending war on terror in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia and, as publicly reported by the Department of Defense, 187,000 troops stationed outside the United States.

Nothing in Joe Biden’s history suggests that he or any of the people he’s already appointed to his national security team have the slightest inclination to destabilize that Democratic-Republican imperial pact. But empires are not sustained by inclination alone. They don’t last forever. They overextend themselves. They rot from within. ...

Those of us who never wanted these wars still have work to do. There's not much of a popular peace movement these days, but Win without War does a respectable job of afflicting Congress in the interests of less wars.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Unanticipated consequences

In the wake of this United States' most momentous of our sporadic lurches toward greater justice and truer freedom, radical abolitionist Congresscritters passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1864 and thereby ended slavery. In so they thought. But the language they chose, inadvertently historian Eric Foner argues, set incarcerated persons up to be re-enslaved. An "Abolition Amendment" has been introduced in Congress this year to finish the job. Foner explains:

The Abolition Amendment would eliminate the Thirteenth Amendment’s “criminal exemption” by adding these words to the Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude may be imposed as a punishment for a crime.”.
.. When it came time during the Civil War to write an amendment abolishing slavery, Charles Sumner, the abolitionist Senator from Massachusetts, proposed wording based on the 1791 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. His colleague Jacob Howard of Michigan rejected the idea of using a French model. “Good old Anglo-Saxon language” was adequate, he declared, and Congress gravitated to the wording of Jefferson’s ordinance. 
Because of its very familiarity, the text of the Thirteenth Amendment did not undergo necessary scrutiny. The criminal exemption was almost never mentioned in congressional debates, contemporary newspapers or at antislavery conventions that endorsed the proposed amendment. 
... But with the overthrow of Reconstruction and the imposition of the comprehensive system of white supremacy known as Jim Crow, the prison population expanded rapidly. 
Southern states filled their jails with African-Americans, often former slaves convicted of minor crimes. They then rented them out as labor for the owners of railroads, plantations and factories, or required them to work on chain gangs building roads and other public projects, or inside prison walls for private businesses. 
The labor of prisoners became a significant source of revenue for Southern states. The system also took hold, but in a much smaller way, in the North. ... Conditions were barbarous and the supply of convicts seemingly endless. “One dies, get another,” became a popular refrain among those who profited from the labor of prisoners. ... With the expansion of private prisons, more and more inmates work for private contractors, sometimes in factory settings within prison walls. In recent years, many companies have used or benefited from the labor of prisoners. 
... the 13th Amendment shows that unanticipated consequences can be as significant as intended ones. The amendment, which destroyed the largest slave system the modern world has known, was deservedly an occasion for celebration. Especially given our heightened awareness of the inequities of our criminal justice system, it is high time the criminal exemption was eliminated, as the abolition amendment proposes.
This Abolition Amendment isn't going to become law anytime soon, but it's important that we understand that we need it.


Another example of less-than-entirely expected consequences: the smart, annoying, contrarian pundit Matthew Yglesias has turned himself into a subscription Substack he names "Slow Boring." He's prolific and I find I learn from him.

But this email/blogging medium also provides space for self-indulgence. And this week he has been whining about social media backlash for promoting his current book on Joe Rogan's podcast. Rogan is apparently a wildly popular misogynist bro-talker who, like many of his breed, has an ant in his pants about gender bending and takes it out on transfolk.

Yglesias complains he's being subjected to "cancel culture" for going on Rogan's show. But also, his response is to lay out where he stands on trans rights as follows:

I support trans rights:
I am glad that transgender people won Civil Rights Act protections from the Supreme Court.
I’m glad Biden has committed to reversing Trump’s executive orders on trans health care.
I’m for open access to restrooms and frankly for the abolition of gender-segregating of bathrooms in general.
I’m looking forward to a new and more enlightened era on military service.
This isn't all warm and fuzzy -- it's not going mollify people who suffer directly from society's rejection of their non-standard gender identity and presentation. But getting a majority of us to this level of understanding of what right behavior looks like would create the context for a better life for millions of people. Maybe we can get to where a young friend doesn't find the job he had been promised had somehow disappeared when his prospective employer realized he'd transitioned. 

Formal tolerance and recognition is what comes first; only when we get this far can we live into deeper acceptance of the unfamiliar. 

Yglesias didn't like being called out -- but it got him on record. That's a good consequence. 

Photo from a contemporary video about Louisiana' Angola Prison.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

2020 snapshot

We used to live across from a bustling elementary and middle school. We now live across from this.

Our unhoused neighbor is quiet and very orderly, though like most of us, seems to accumulate new possessions. The situation is unstable as winter closes in, but we can't expect the city to do anything helpful. Let's hope they don't do anything actively unhelpful, like seize the stuff. That we've learned.

On weekdays next to the school, the line for coronavirus tests forms early, carefully socially distanced.

It took the city nine months to get around to setting up this neighborhood testing site -- but better late than never.

Though our accumulation of masks hang by the front door, it still takes effort of will to remember to wear them. We go out very little.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Why Democrats might win in Georgia Senate run-off elections

First and foremost, the answer is that Georgians have been organizing for a more democratic (small "d") state for at least a decade, and actually ever since ending the Jim Crow regime of the last century. The person most associated with the remarkable accomplishment of winning the state for Joe Biden this year is former state senate minority leader and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams; her organization FairFight is now organizing volunteer work in the Senate race. (There are others: if labor unions are more your style, join me on the UniteHERE national phone bank.)

But a little Georgia history can remind what an enormous change it is to see Georgia turn blue -- or at least purple. Democrats Reverend Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidates both, do still have a chance to win Senate seats in the January 5 vote.

Emily Badger in the Upshot captured a central truth about the November election:

“One way you could characterize what happened a month ago is this was the first time — maybe the first time ever — where urban Georgia outvoted rural Georgia,” said Charles S. Bullock III, a political scientist at the University of Georgia.
I'm old enough to vaguely remember that Jim Crow elections in Georgia were governed by what was called the County Unit Rule. After Southern elites defeated Reconstruction and restored their pre-Civil War power over the Black and white working class population, Georgia like all the South became a one-party state (Democrats in those days.) In a one-party state, the only election that matters is the primary. The County Unit Rule, legally established in 1917, ensured that small rural countries where only whites were allowed to vote retained preponderant power in Democratic primaries, ensuring that cities and the Black population could never choose candidates who would win in general elections. This system was only ended by Supreme Court decision in 1963.

Moreover, as in most of the South, the ruling party felt no pressure to ensure that state legislative seats represented equal numbers of voters. The white rural areas were grossly over represented. The Supreme Court's One Person One Vote decision in 1964 finally curbed that practice.

As the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gradually enabled Blacks to become members of the electorate, white Georgians migrated to the GOP. The last Democratic U.S. Senator from Georgia and the last Democratic Governor are both defeated by Republicans in 2002. Thereafter, until November, Georgia was once again a one-party state, now Republican.

Atlanta suburbs grow and turn blue. Click to enlarge.

The Upshot article makes a pretty convincing case that increasing integration of the Atlanta suburbs, created by migrants of all colors, as well as Georgian Black citizens, is key to finally empowering Georgia's diverse urban and suburban core.

“It’s been this evolution of Cobb from a white-flight suburb to, now, I went to a Ramadan meal in a gated community in Cobb County that was multiracial,” said Andrea Young, the executive director of the Georgia A.C.L.U., and the daughter of the former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. “This is the story,” she said, “of Atlanta spilling out into the metro area.”

Around the region, suburban communities that once defined themselves in opposition to Atlanta have increasingly come to resemble it: in demographics, in urban conveniences and challenges, and, finally, in politics. Rather than symbolizing a bulwark against Black political power, these places have become part of a coalition led by Black voters that is large enough to tip statewide races — and that could hand control of the Senate to Democrats next month.
Georgia has been a state structurally consigned to one-party rule -- white, rural rule-- for generations.  What might happen there in January is earthshaking.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The way it is in a dark winter

Even Joe Biden, that mellow purveyor of comforting hope, has said it: we're in for a "dark winter." COVID infections and deaths keep increasing. Yes, there's a vaccine, or two. But given what we've seen of the departing administration, there's no reason to expect that either the necessary doses or the necessary infrastructure for distribution will be in place for a rapid, competent roll out.

So I'm going to keep on sharing stories from people on the front lines of our overburdened hospitals. While we stay home, mask up and distance ourselves, we owe it to the folks in the thick of the fight to listen and learn.

The drawings come from South Korean ICU nurse Oh Young-jun.

The text, lightly edited for length, is from Ashley Bartholomew, BSN, RN.

I’m an RN in El Paso ... I resigned from my job last week and I’ve been asked several times, “What was the breaking point?”...

On my last shift I had a very eye opening experience. El Paso was in the middle of its hardest hit time with COVID hospitalizations and cases. I was working in COVID ICU and at the time checking finger stick blood glucose levels on the entire unit, about 25 patients.
[In] one of my last rooms to go into, the patient was awake and alert. He was being transferred to a lower level of care in the next hour or so. The news was on, El Paso in the national headlines again for needing more freezer truck morgues. The patient makes small talk.
He mentions hating “fake news”. He says, “I don’t think COVID is really more than a flu.“ I clarified, “Now you think differently though?”

He replies, “No the same. I should just take vitamins for my immune system. They (news) are making it a big deal.”

I’m shocked.
I’m at a loss for words. Here I am basically wrapped in tarp, here he is in a COVID ICU. ...
Typically as a nurse we usually put on a face. We don’t tell our patients another patient just died. We don’t tell them what we just saw. We walk in to care for that patient as they are. We give them our full unbiased care.
I make a choice. Something I’ve never done. I say,  “To be honest this is my last shift. You’re the only patient of 25 that has been able to speak to me today or is even aware I’m here.”

He’s surprised but doubtful and asks if other people are doing as well as him. I tell him I’ve never seen so many people SO very sick. “Really?” He asks if a lot of people have died.

I’m brutally honest. I tell him in 10 years of being a nurse I’ve done more CPR and seen more people die in the last 2 weeks than I have in my entire career combined.
His tone changes, he seems to have understood the gravity of what I’m saying. He apologizes. ...

A few hours later I had the opportunity to transfer him in a wheelchair to a lower level of care, a medical COVID floor. He sees the other patients in the ICU as we are leaving. We arrive to to the floor and I’m waiting to give report to the nurse.
He says one more thing, “Thank you for telling me what you told me. Thank you for being a good nurse and about me. I saw a lot of the other ones when you were wheeling me out of ICU. It’s much more than a flu, I was mistaken.”
I thanked him and I told him I hope he has a complete recovery. I hope he can heal.

“I will tell everyone that denies how bad this is about my experiences,” he says.

I will too, Sir. I will too.

COVID shaming doesn't work, the public health experts warn. We can't guilt trip everyone into wearing masks and distancing. But we can share their stories.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Let's call it "femicide"

This video is a superb short white-board presentation of how COVID has made life much more dangerous for many Latin American women, subjecting them to violence and even death at the hands of intimate partners. Do take a look.

Watching it made me wonder: is the United States seeing a similar increase in this time of the coronavirus and shelter-in-place orders? Informed reporting proved surprisingly hard to track down.

Early in the pandemic, all the conventional media -- New York Times, LA Times, etc.  -- ran prospective stories about a likely rise in domestic violence. Clearly the danger jumped to mind.

A little later on, some local media like the Mercury News ran more nuanced reports.

Since the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place orders first took effect in March, law enforcement and victims advocates have feared the lockdowns would lead to an eruption of domestic violence, with families effectively isolated in their homes amid mounting social and financial pressures caused by the pandemic.

... More than two months into the lockdown [June 2020], there is some evidence these fears are coming true. Data from local law enforcement obtained by this news organization show East Bay agencies are seeing a rise in domestic violence crimes during the stay-at-home orders. San Jose has seen a slight decline, but other crimes in the city have dropped far more precipitously during the pandemic, so the level of domestic violence stands out.

And victim advocates worry the true numbers may be worse, as the pressures of life in isolation force victims to suffer in silence.

Academic expert opinion is still ready now to warn that once we get beyond COVID (if we do), there will be a surge in violence against intimate partners -- mostly women. But they are not reporting the actual murder statistics that experts in other countries seem able to uncover. Here's such a U.S. summary published in the New England Journal of Medicine

Domestic-violence hotlines prepared for an increase in demand for services as states enforced these mandates, but many organizations experienced the opposite. In some regions, the number of calls dropped by more than 50%. Experts in the field knew that rates of IPV [Intimate Partner Violence] had not decreased, but rather that victims were unable to safely connect with services. 

Though restrictions on movement have been lifted in most regions, the pandemic and its effects rage on, and there is widespread agreement that areas that have seen a drop in caseloads are likely to experience a second surge. This pandemic has reinforced important truths: inequities related to social determinants of health are magnified during a crisis, and sheltering in place does not inflict equivalent hardship on all people.

Though I have no reason to doubt this, it would be more impactful if it dug under generalizations.

The few reports of killings of U.S. women being highlighted in the media during the pandemic seem to focus on places and people many media consumers might consider exotic: for example, Teen Vogue looked at murdered enlisted U.S. soldiers, while ProPublica has published investigations of killings in remote Alaskan villages.

Feminists in Spanish-speaking countries (and in Brazil) have insisted murders of women are a particular crime which deserves its own name: "femicide." Maybe we'd be able to see the prevalence of woman-murder more clearly if we adopted the label.

Friday, December 11, 2020

This is the coup

Republican office holders know what many of us in California have learned since the 1990s: if every citizen votes, they go down to defeat by the people. They can confuse and lie and inflame hatreds, but a majority of us neither want their policies nor trust them in office.

So now a flood of Republican controlled states led by the criminally indicted Attorney General of Texas and 106 Congresscritters have gone to the Supreme Court begging "Pretty please, overturn the election. We don't like the result." Trump has piled on -- "overturn" is his word. Joe Biden cannot be allowed to become President.

Marc Elias is the lead Democratic lawyer defending the election. His folks have won in 56 out of 57 of the bogus lawsuits in which GOPers have charged voting fraud in the states. He's gobsmacked by this new one:

I am shaken by this Texas case. Not because it will prevail (it won't) but because something is seriously wrong with our democracy that these elected leaders, who know better, are using the courts to spread lies and undermine our elections.

That seems too kind. GOPers want power and they don't care that they have to run over the majority to get it. It's been that way for citizens of color for most of our history; those of us who are white and currently disfavored are learning what it is like to be threatened by the boot on the neck. 

The peculiar personal pathologies of  Donald Trump have accelerated the descent of the national Republican Party into pure fascism.

We cannot let democracy die quietly. 

Job One is win the two Senate seats up for election in Georgia in January. You can get involved remotely through a coalition of non-profit organizations led by Fair Fight or through the unions by joining the UniteHERE phone effort. 

Who knows what Job Two will be -- RESISTANCE is still the word.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

It's the new oil!

As the planet warms and we humans proliferate:

Wall Street Vultures Are Ready to Get Rich From Water Scarcity

Bloomberg reported on Sunday that California water futures are now officially on the Wall Street markets, with the United States–based CME Group heading up the 2021 contracts connected to the state’s billion-dollar water market. The “commodity” was most recently going for $496 per acre-foot with the main purchasers of the futures—which were first announced by CME in September—expected to be large-scale water consumers, chiefly utility companies and the states’ Big Ag corporations. (California is home to the largest agriculture market in the nation.) “Climate change, droughts, population growth, and pollution are likely to make water scarcity issues and pricing a hot topic for years to come,” RBC Capital Markets managing director and analyst Deane Dray told Bloomberg. “We are definitely going to watch how this new water futures contract develops.” We’ve officially reached a new phase of the Mad Maxification of America. ....

Collective survival on a warming planet will require that at some point we come to understand that water is a shared good, the inheritance from interstellar space of every living thing. Our lives make this hard to recognize.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Georgia Republicans want less voting by the wrong citizens

The election, in all three counts, was more 99.965% accurate.

No quantity of recounts will shift the 2020 results in Georgia. Trump lost; Biden won.

So Republican legislators are already working to make sure such a thing never happens again. 

Georgia Republicans on Tuesday outlined a plan to restrict mail voting and roll back the election laws that contributed to the state's record-high turnout in the presidential election — unwinding rules the party itself put in place.

The framework for legislation — which would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, add a voter ID requirement to mail ballots for voters with an eligible excuse and eliminate drop boxes — appears designed to respond to President Donald Trump's repeated and false claims that mail voting is rife with fraud.

... Voting rights experts have long argued that mail voting is already secure, and that these types of restrictions suppress voters, particularly Black and brown Americans who already face disproportionate hurdles.

... Georgia Republicans created the state's no-excuse absentee voting system in 2005, under Gov. Sonny Perdue, who now serves at Trump's secretary of agriculture.

And their efforts to make voting harder will begin with the January 5 Senate run off elections. The New York Times reports: 

Election officials in Cobb County, Georgia, the state’s third most populous county, are planning to open fewer than half the early voting locations for the Senate runoff elections in January. It is one of the only counties in the state to make such a drastic reduction in voting access while the pandemic surges.
In the 2020 election, the county had 11 early voting locations. For the January runoffs, the county is planning to have only five....

County officials claim holiday related staffing shortages -- but given the state's history of voter suppression, it's hard not to suspect partisan motives.

You can help Georgia voters make a plan to turn out despite whatever obstacles Republicans throw up by joining the UniteHERE phone bank.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

And speaking of corruption ...

It's break out the popcorn time in San Francisco. Another round of City Hall crooks are being dragged into the light by a diligent U.S. Attorney. 

Heather Knight at the Chron asks a reasonable question: Why were lavishly paid public servants allegedly bribed for so little?

Leaders of mammoth city agencies -- agencies we depend on for garbage disposal, for our electricity, for public housing -- make in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars in salaries annually but dispense favors for petty payments of expensive wine and trips to China. They seem to be cheap dates for the hustlers and developers who make the real money in this rich and sometimes cruel city.

Every few years it's a similar story -- some bigwig is revealed to be on the take. Some stories are more baroque than others -- remember when, just a few years back, we had a state senator charged with gun trafficking. Or there was the cop son of a police chief who beat up a citizen over a fajita

Corruption in the city by the bay is often entertaining to watch. 

The Chronicle hints at the background of so much of it, attaching a picture of former California state assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. (Yes, he writes a column for the newspaper.)

So many of these people are out of his lineage ... remember when he stuck the city with a head of waste management whose qualification for the job was betraying his Republican colleagues in the state assembly to vote with Willie?

The current mayor is out of Willie's tree, as was the previous one, and the one before that, who is now our governor. Maybe they weren't in on the petty crimes. Maybe they weren't in on the small time con stuff; maybe they are/were devoted to good government. But it's hard not to suspect one might find a bit of stench about them -- they've run in suspicious company.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Do we believe greed is good?

It's entirely too easy to underestimate what rapacious swindlers these two are. Here's Matt Ford:

The Georgia Runoff Elections Are a Referendum on Political Corruption

Some people collect stamps in their free time. Others play chess or go bird-watching. David Perdue, the senior senator from Georgia, trades stocks. An analysis by The New York Times earlier this month found that Perdue reportedly accounts for one-third of all stock trades made by senators in recent years, and that taken together, his trades exceed those made by the next five senators put together.

This wouldn’t be a problem if Perdue wasn’t a senator. Everyone needs a hobby, after all. But he is a senator, and his seat gives him access to nonpublic information that could affect stock prices, as well as influence over the fates and fortunes of businesses that could be affected by the Senate’s actions. To make matters worse, he appears to have bought and sold stocks in companies that deal with the committees and subcommittees on which he serves.

... Loeffler, who was appointed to the Senate in December 2019, has also been dogged by ethics concerns since taking office. Some of them stem from her own business dealings as well as her marriage to Jeffrey Sprecher, a wealthy financier and the founder of Intercontinental Exchange, which owns the New York Stock Exchange. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution presciently noted, when Loeffler took office, that she faced a potential “minefield” of ethical concerns if her financial holdings intersected with Senate business. Those predictions came true after news outlets discovered that she and her husband, along with a handful of other senators, sold off stocks in January as the Senate began to receive briefings about the emerging pandemic. ...

Do Georgians care about corruption? Or have years of dirty governance convinced them that all politicians steal, so who cares? 

We had a meeting today planning for the UniteHERE phonebank to Georgia voters for the January 5 run off. We were asked to think about what we hoped to learn from it. I want to learn more about what Georgians think about corruption and about what they might hope for. Join the phonebank from the link and you can too.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Campaign take aways

You do know the election of 2020 is not over, don't you? We could still win a Democratic Party run Senate and therefore a good sized coronavirus relief and stimulus package.  Sign up to help elect Rev. Warnock and Jon Offoff in the Georgia run elections on January 5.

That said, we're beginning to get some believable and intriguing analysis of what happened in the long season that led up to November 3. A few items:

Turnout: this election drew out a higher percentage of the electorate than any since the early 1900s. Democrats fought for easy access by mail and early voting opportunities in response to the pandemic, but also because easier voting is simply the right way to run a democracy. We, collectively, seem to have responded -- regardless of which side of the party divide we came from. 

Republicans may again try to hamper easy voting in future elections, but suppressing the vote will probably be more unpopular than it might have been before so many experienced its advantages. And it isn't clear that increased access benefits either party more; an awful lot of new Trump voters came out of somewhere.

From a campaign perspective, all this creates new demands. Nick Corasaniti and Jim Rutenberg observe:

The expansion of voting options also created a fall “election season” rather than a sole Election Day, a change that is likely to endure and force political campaigns to restructure fall operations with a greater emphasis on getting out the vote over a period of weeks. ... “Voters really thought about how they were going to vote, and many had a plan and executed on that plan,” said Kim Wyman, the secretary of state in Washington.

That's the job of a campaign, to help their voters make their own plans.

Door knocking: Mostly, Democrats respected the danger created by COVID and didn't canvass door to door. (UniteHERE and some other community campaigns did canvass in Nevada, Arizona, Philadelphia and probably other places I don't know about.) 

Dan Pfeiffer points out that eschewing face to face contacts most likely hurt Democrats in cities.

The expectation, headed into this election was that turnout would be up everywhere [over 2016] including in those cities [-- such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee.] That assumption turned out to be incorrect. While turnout was up across the board in 2020, it was flat in the big cities in battleground states.

... It’s possible the flat turnout in urban areas was pandemic-related. The cities were some of the hardest hit areas. Due to the pandemic, Democrats mostly abandoned the door knocking efforts that have always been central to our get out the vote efforts. It’s also likely that we left some votes on the table because our usual efforts to register new voters were constrained by the pandemic.
Digital: Kevin Roose has written a very interesting assessment of the Biden campaign's efforts online. He gives them high marks for using celebrity influencers rather than trying to turn Joe into an internet phenom, tailoring content rooted in empathy directed to suburban women Facebook users, and empowering more abrasive fans with content like Occupy Democrats.

What strikes me about all this is that they were able, through deft use of various platforms, to make Biden-Harris come off as slightly different people to different audiences. I'm not saying they lied; rather they put the candidates' best feet forward in appropriate venues. This has long been the unrealizable grail of campaigns -- and something that, before we all started living in separate new media silos, was well nigh impossible. You couldn't be the scrappy fighter in one speech and the compassionate statesman in another and get away with the contrast. Now you can. But you better be smart about it.

The Biden campaign certainly thereby identified terrain on which Donald J. Trump literally could not compete; the guy is kryptonite to nuance.

Saturday, December 05, 2020


David Rothkopf's Traitor: A History of American Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump is a howl of rage against the 45th president's crimes. It's also an inclusive history of a rogue's gallery of men (they are almost all men) who did the country wrong in the past, from Benedict Arnold who sold out to the Brits in the Revolution, to Jefferson Davis who chose to rebel along with his home state against the Union, to the poet Ezra Pound who broadcast propaganda for the Nazis. It's a good once-over-lightly survey of these betrayers of their nation.

But Rothkopf's book runs smack into the difficulty of sticking the appellation "traitor" on anyone in this country. The authors of the Constitution wrote a very narrow definition of treason:
"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. ..."
Under this formula, you don't have "treason" unless some state is making war on the United States and the "traitor" joins the attack.

Legal commentators stress that the founders were trying to prevent what they'd known under the king -- broad "treason" charges aimed at opponents.  
While the Constitution’s Framers shared the centuries-old view that all citizens owed a duty of loyalty to their home nation, they included the Treason Clause not so much to underscore the seriousness of such a betrayal, but to guard against the historic use of treason prosecutions by repressive governments to silence otherwise legitimate political opposition.
In strict Constitutional terms, Donald Trump is not a traitor. 

And in ordinary everyday terms, I think that is right.

Trump is just a canny swindler who took advantage of pre-existing pathologies in U.S. society and in our electoral structures to win executive office. His kind of hustler has no allegiance to country or to anything else except his own greed and individual insecurities. And his family and the posse of second-rate con artists who surround him are more of the same; they can't be said to violate any allegiance to country because there's no evidence they ever had any. So the name "traitor" is not quite right. They are all just small time crooks, unfortunately and accidentally elevated to positions in which they have been able to make out like the bandits they are.

But there is one rogue in Trump's entourage who comes a little closer to the everyday understanding of treason. That's Michael Flynn; after all, this one had managed to climb to the rank of Lieutenant General in the US army. We expect loyalty to something besides self from products of the military personnel system. Flynn apparently monetized his rank and experience, working not only for Donald Trump but also apparently being open to corrupt relationships with Russia's Putin and Turkey's Erdogan. When the Mueller investigation brought him to court for sentencing for admittedly lying to the FBI (don't ever do that!), Judge Emmet Sullivan, who had the opportunity to read the full unredacted account of Flynn's doings which the rest of us have never seen, burst out injudiciously, "arguably, you sold out your country." Sullivan took criticism for being so blunt, but his reaction to Flynn's betrayal of military ethics seems refreshingly authentic.

Naturally Trump has pardoned Flynn and the former general is now running around suggesting that Trump should fix his loss of the 2020 election by imposing martial law. I suppose that's protected First Amendment speech ... but it sure looks like additional treasonous behavior to me.

• • •

Eleanor Clift has pointed out that, even after January 20, Donald Trump might have a unique residual opportunity to make money off the office he used to occupy. Apparently it has been the custom (though not required) to make secret intelligence briefings available to ex-presidents. I wonder how much some of Trump's strongmen buddies would pay for up-to-date U.S. spy briefings? Clift hopes Biden will call a halt this opportunity for betrayal for cash:

The decision to pull the plug falls to the new president—and Joe Biden shouldn’t hesitate to cut him off in a New York minute. ... It’s not hard to imagine Trump picking up the phone and calling Putin, or any of the other dictatorial leaders he’s friendly with, and spilling secrets accidentally—or deliberately. “The concern hypothetically would be that he could provide classified information to someone who shouldn’t receive it, that might endear him to a foreign power where he has properties or a foreign power that has some control over his ability to service his debts,” says [Ohio State law professor Dakota] Rudesill. “There’s so much about his finances that we don’t know.”

• • •

David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy magazine where he made surprising amounts of room for critics of American empire. In the Trump era, he created Deep State Radio which has served up realistic and horrifying, but nonetheless somehow comforting, commentary on the Trump shit show -- despite an abiding affection for a bygone U.S. international "leadership" which often looked a lot less benign to its objects than it did to its practitioners.

Friday, December 04, 2020

This seems perverse

The New York Times offers a calculator which enables you, based on age, location, and health condition, to visualize where you stand in line for a coronavirus vaccine. As a 73 year old resident of San Francisco County with no particular cardiovascular complications, it places me standing behind healthcare workers, nursing home residents and people with clearcut medical risk factors. 

But why should I be standing ahead of "essential workers" -- I assume that means grocery store clerks, bus drivers, and restaurant employees -- as well as teachers, homeless people and prisoners? None of these folks have anywhere near the power to control how much they risk infection that I have.

I'm an economically comfortable, retired person. Maybe I should be in line before the young adults. If I get COVID, it will be bad news for me and clog the medical system. 

But hey -- give the vaccine to those who have no power over their well being. That's what a decent society would do.

Friday cat blogging

She's so pretty. Some might think that freckle on her nose a defect, but we think it part of her charm. Janeway is such a smart, inquisitive, fearless cat that charm doesn't always come into it. But how can I be disconcerted by the gaze of a creature with such a silly marking?

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Neglect kills

Once again the Latino Task Force for Covid-19, in partnership with health researchers from UCSF, carried out coronavirus testing for three days this week at the 24th Street BART plaza.

Once again the findings from the 1650 tests administered were horrifying. According to a report in Mission Local, some 9-10 percent of people tested showed up positive. This contrasts with a purported 2 percent positivity rate for the city as a whole. Previous testing in the neighborhood has shown that among those showing the markers of the disease, as many as 80 percent were Latinx. Jobs that are deemed "essential work" and living in crowded households has put the Mission community at risk.

“I was so upset and so angry, knowing that here we are, in December, with the same [results] we had in April — and the city has done virtually nothing for the community that’s been hit hardest,” said Jon Jacobo, a member of the Latino Task Force, a coalition of Mission District community organizations formed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. ... the city has yet to distribute any Covid-19 funds to the Latino Task Force. “We’re still waiting on grant money to support community wellness,” Jacobo said.

If the city can't take up its public health responsibilities itself, it should fund those in the community who are doing the work they have a right to expect from their government.