Friday, January 31, 2020

Do you go out for Indian food?

Political scientist Lynn Vavreck passes along that your dining habits can serve as a clue to which Democratic Party presidential aspirants might thrill you -- and most certainly whether you ever viewed Donald Trump with more than a passing disdain.

The more likely that people were to experience other cultures probably unfamiliar to them — through travel or food — the more likely they were to vote for Mr. Obama [in 2008], even controlling for things like income, education, personality, racial attitudes and city living.

This orientation toward the world also helped differentiate people who supported Donald J. Trump from those who supported any of the 16 other candidates in the Republican primary in 2016. Voters who had been to Europe, Australia, Canada or Mexico or had eaten at an Indian restaurant were less likely to choose Mr. Trump by 10 to 12 percentage points beyond the differences explained by other factors like the ones mentioned above.

... Of course, it’s not that eating Indian food leads a person to support one Democratic candidate over another — that’s silly. (And there are voters for whom Indian food is the taste of home.) But a voter’s orientation toward the world is related to candidate choice, and it turns out that eating in restaurants that celebrate less familiar cultures is one way to measure where people think they are more connected: to those around them locally or to people farther afield.

Which Democrats will prevail this primary season — the cosmopolitans or the local-focused? Something to consider the next time you eat out.

This bit of polling wisdom doesn't tell us the political leanings of people like so many around here who get their Indian food via DoorDash or other delivery options. Is this perhaps another bit to tech disruption, this time skewing political analytics?
It's hard to feel lighthearted on the eve of the Democratic primary going serious in the Iowa caucuses while watching GOPer Senators betray the country and Constitution they took an oath to uphold. Nothing to do but keep working for a better country in whatever arenas, via whatever means we have. We never know where friction will save a life or a spark may catch.

Friday cat blogging:out on the street

This is, despite quiet cul-de-sacs, a big city. Not a lot of cats wander freely among its human, canine, and automobile hazards. But this old fellow looks to have been through it all and still claims his bit of sidewalk.

Most sidewalk cats are far more wary.

What piercing eyes you have!

All encountered in one unrepresentative precinct while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

He claimed to be a builder

One more lie. A section of Trump's border wall -- steel bollards and all -- blew over into Mexicali yesterday. High winds and weak concrete caused the failure.

Let's make more wind, human wind.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A ritual hazing ...

When San Franciscans elect prosecutors who the city establishment and most especially the police union fear will be less than completely hostile to offenders, they pounce early and hard to discipline the new official.

Senator Kamala Harris could testify to this. In 2004, as the newly elected D.A., she did what she'd run saying she'd do -- she refused to demand the death penalty for David Hill -- a young criminal who had killed a cop. (No, not the other way around -- cop kills citizen -- as has happened too frequently in recent years.) She instead asked a sentence of life without parole. This was treason to her detractors. The police union, the victim's family, the local media, and Senator Dianne Feinstein all went ballistic. They could not accept the possibility that justice could be done without the death penalty.

Now newly elected District Attorney Chesa Boudin is receiving the outrage treatment for his decision to put charges against a suspect on hold while his office investigates the entirety of the circumstances in which this defendant is charged with attacking cops who then shot him. The charges could come back if they seem warranted. The cops who shot the guy (with the result he has had his leg amputated) can't very well serve as witnesses until their own conduct has been evaluated, can they? A fair-minded observer might think so. But the city establishment is horrified.

I think it is fair to say that Harris learned her lesson; to advance politically she needed to avoid stirring up such a hornet's nest again -- and she didn't in her subsequent career. She continued to "oppose the death penalty" but avoided any chance to do anything about it either while D.A. or from her later perch as state Attorney General. I didn't follow her career in law enforcement closely; some progressives in the legal world were rabid about what they saw as her failures to advance justice when she ran for president.

Somehow I don't think Chesa Boudin will learn to back off after the current howling in some city quarters. He ran against precisely the unequal justice he has seen in the system as public defender. He doesn't seem to want to give either cops or crooks an unfair break -- something which some who have been accustomed to special treatment will experience with shock. And so far there's no suggestion Boudin is using the D.A. office as a platform from which to leap to a higher office. He seems to actually want the job he just won. San Franciscans can hope he'll make a success of it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Virus on the loose

Kaiser Permanente is on the ball -- I was not surprised to notice Monday that they are apparently on the lookout for infected travelers and imported viruses. Such as the Wuhan coronavirus, I expect. I see that the CDC is now urging U.S. citizens to avoid all nonessential travel to China. Let's hope the Trump administration doesn't somehow get this public health measure mixed up with its trade war -- or use it to scare silly people silly. Trump was all in with scare mongering during the West African ebola outbreak a few years back.

Meanwhile, it's encouraging to learn that somewhere in the depths of the executive branch, there are still scientists who seem to be responding professionally to the appearance of a dangerous new respiratory virus.

The CDC is growing samples of the novel coronavirus so researchers can develop medical countermeasures and better understand how the latest SARS-like virus has spread, the agency’s respiratory disease director said. ...

“We are growing the virus in cell culture, which is necessary for further studies, including the additional genetic characterizations,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a Monday telephone press briefing.

Those sample viruses will allow companies like Gilead Sciences Inc. and AbbVie Inc. that are pursuing potential treatments to see if those drugs can work. It’s not immediately clear how long it will take the CDC to isolate the virus.

“Once isolated, the virus will be available in the BEI resources repository, which is an NIH resource that supplies organisms and reagents to the broad community of microbiology and infectious disease researchers,” she said.

Bloomberg Law

Let's hope these folks can remain unpolluted by politics or panic.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Overview: where to work to help to defeat Trump in 2020

I'm doing a little analytical work for the Seed the Vote project of the EveryDayPeople PAC which aims to send San Francisco Bay Area volunteers to work on getting out the vote next November in Arizona and Nevada. This has made me realize that a general overview of where in the entire country progressive people who want to dump Trump can do the most good might be useful to some folks.

As we saw again to our sorrow in 2016, who gets to be President is not determined by who wins the most votes. The winner is determined by who captures the most electoral votes, state by state. Each state has the same number of electoral votes as its total number of Senators (2) and Congresscritters (variable by population). Except in Nebraska and Maine which throw Congressional district splits into the equation, whoever wins the state gets all the electoral votes in the Electoral College. So, for example, win California and you win 55 votes; win Vermont and you win 3 votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Click the map to create your own at

There are a lot of states where it is dead obvious which party is going to win the electoral votes next fall. History says Democrats start with 248, the dark blue states where huge numbers of people live.

There are three states where the Trump campaign thinks it might be able to turn past defeat into victory in 2020 -- and where progressives need to make sure our voters know the election matters:
  • Virginia
  • Colorado
  • New Mexico.
And there are several states whose past history suggests they are likely to go for the Democratic nominee -- but where progressives would be crazy to let down our guard. All these need volunteer help from people voting in other, uncompetitive states. In that category I'd put
  • Michigan (won by Trump in 2016)
  • New Hampshire
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada.
There are two states where winning for any Democrat in 2020 looks like a huge stretch -- but where building base and increasing the reach and diversity of who votes looks as if it might be a worthwhile investment in a more progressive future:
  • Georgia
  • Texas.
Finally there are the five "swing states" that Democrats, Republicans, and all the pundits agree are up for grabs:
  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wisconsin
  • Arizona.
To end the Trump era and win the space to struggle for a better, more equal, more humane, and more just United States, we have to win some of these last five. (There are several possible combinations.) This will not be easy but the 2018 showed what aroused people can do if we work hard enough. There will be many organizations in the field looking to put volunteers to work. Find one that has a plan and let's do it!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Reformation: Islamophobia and a slavery past

It's usually my practice, when writing about books here, to hold off until I finish them. That seems a fair, even prudent, idea. But it doesn't feel necessary, or wise, to follow this course with Diarmaid MacCulloch's enormous 2004 volume The Reformation: A History. This book is erudite; and long. This book is wide-ranging; and long. The book is opinionated; and long. This book is held up as masterful historic writing; and long. This book is gripping to me; and long.

As I said, it's long. I am reading the audio edition, all 36 hours of it and can highly recommend it. As of today, I only have 18 more hours to go. Some familiarity with maps of Europe and major historical markers help; as I usually feel when reading sprawling histories, I don't quite have enough background to take everything in. But who does, besides MacCulloch? Interestingly and happily in a scholarly text, the narrator is a woman. The only stumbling block I've encountered is her high British pronunciations -- we Yanks sometimes render historical names and places quite differently in speech and it takes a moment to decode.

MacCulloch tells the story of the multiple facets and formations that arose from the splintering of western Christendom. There's the magisterial Reformation (roughly the denominational ancestors of what we call mainline Protestantism); the Tridentine Roman Catholic Reformation which was as thoroughgoing in its way as the breakaways; the Anglican Reformation which was a national horse of another color; and radical reformations -- Anabaptists, Hutterites, Unitarians, etc. -- which went off in their own directions.

What I am going to do as I read along is periodically share bits that leap out at me. I hope they seem interesting to others.

MacCulloch begins by insisting that the story of early modern Europe's religious upheaval cannot be appreciated without being aware that reformers and orthodox alike were scared near out of their wits.

The biggest fear for western Christendom around 1500 was the prospect that it might disappear altogether. ... By the 16th century that destiny lay with the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Sultans had created an Islamic empire-building enterprise designed for conquest. They advanced inexorably out of Asia Minor, completing their absorption of the Byzantine empire when they captured Constantinople in 1453, and for a decade from the late 1510s they hugely expanded their territories ...

While far away in north Germany in 1516-17 Luther brooded on his campaign against indulgences, the Sultan overran the territories of fellow Muslims in Egypt and Syria ...

Then it was the turn of the Latins... The Turks occupied and wrecked the royal [Hungarian] capital Buda, whose palace castle was a show piece of Renaissance art as spectacular as anything in Italy and home to one of Europe's most distinguished and up-to-date libraries. This was the first loss in the heartland of Latin Christendom: might the Turks overrun everything?

... In southeastern Europe, ... the Turks were a real and present source of terror to all ranks in society ... Popular suspicions grew that the nobility did not have their hearts in the task of defending Europe ...

The fear which this Islamic aggression engendered in Europe was an essential background to the Reformation, convincing many on both sides that God's anger was poised to strike down the Christian world, and so making it all the more essential to please God by affirming the right form of Christian belief against other Christians. ...

Living under threat of annihilation doesn't make humans better people, then or now. I have to wonder if a visceral fear of Islamic invasion, long more conventional in Europe than in the U.S. (at least before the 9/11 attacks), doesn't include a dim ancestral echo of the true clash of civilizations half a millennium ago.

Part of that clash was a flourishing trade in capture and sale of enslaved people -- a commerce which ran in a direction white residents of the western hemisphere may find unexpected:

Even when the activities of the Ottoman fleet were curbed after the battle of Lepanto in 1571, north African corsairs systematically raided the Mediterranean coast of Europe to acquire slave labour; in fact they ranged as far as Ireland and even Iceland, kidnapping men, women and children. Modern historians examining contemporary comment produce reliable estimates that Islamic raiders enslaved about a million western Christian Europeans between 1530 and 1640 ... Large areas of Mediterranean coastline were abandoned for safer inland regions, or their people lived in perpetual dread of what might appear on the horizon ...

The modern condemnation of buying and selling people is just that: "modern." We humans make structures of society which accord with our moral first principles. So these matter.

More to come about The Reformation.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

From my clutter to your consideration: found thoughts

I have so many topics I would want to write about but never will have time to research properly. So some Saturdays I've decided I'll post some annotated links.

CalMatters has created a simple checklist evaluating measures that California might take to respond to the fact that our economy is throwing people out of their homes and onto the streets. I wasn't inclined to be sympathetic to such a listicle, but find this thought-provoking and instructive. Take a look.

I often repeat a recurring rant about how we aren't going to combat climate chaos through individual behavioral tweaks. Carbon pollution is society-wide and needs society-wide solutions. Here's an article which documents how individual action --a crackpot, but emotionally comforting, idea -- came to infest late-20th century U.S. environmental consciousness.

And if you want to feel better, read this pitch from an articulate trail running coach about why his athletes and community should be working to save our environmental laws from the Trump administration's giveaways to the polluters.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Friday cat blogging

There he sits, giving us a look. What a lovely fellow!

Guaranteeing rights

The last time in U.S. political history when a substantial fraction of the people were screaming that the Constitution had enabled monstrous evil was immediately prior to the Civil War. The abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison famously called our basic document "a Covenant with Death, an Agreement with Hell" because it countenanced slavery. And so, eventually, conflicting passions broke the system and the nation fought a Civil War which killed 620,000 combatants. And then the victors set about fixing the Constitution.

Historian Eric Foner's The Second Founding is the story of how a radical Congress (in those days, the radicals were Republicans) set about remaking our basic law to guarantee civil equality of the races -- and how the next generation and a conservative Supreme Court set about subverting the new edifice the Civil War generation had built. Foner is the author of an exhaustive history of the Reconstruction era (1863-1877) which I've explored here, here, and here. His current book focuses on the Constitutional changes -- the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments -- which their authors believed would put the evil which they had just overthrown behind them forever.

It didn't work out that way.
  • The 13th Amendment outlawed "involuntary servitude," "except as a punishment for crime" -- an exception that the states of the former Confederacy used to entrap Black citizens in "neo-Slavery" using "vagrancy" laws and other phony offenses. The ill-effects of that Constitutional phrase continue today in our disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with criminal records.
  • The 14th Amendment guaranteed equality and citizenship to anyone born here. The courts fairly quickly allowed segregation laws to gut this promise of equal treatment, though the same courts rapidly became very solicitous of the "due process" for those favored phony "legal persons," big corporations.
  • The 15th Amendment gave black men the vote, but the same courts allowed states to hedge the franchise with poll taxes, literacy tests, and other restrictions, gutting the franchise.

Congress built further interpretation and implementation into the amendments. But this ran the risk that their purposes could be defeated by narrow judicial construction or congressional inaction.

All these amendments promised that Congress could make the laws needed to realize their intent, but a combination of lack of political will and unfriendly courts prevented that from happening until, partially, the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and '60s. I take from that experience that the meaning of law will always be somewhat dependent on how much we're willing to agitate for in the streets -- plus doing all that other stuff like educating ourselves and voting.

Foner has provided a short, very accessible treatment of the legal aspect of Reconstruction in this book. In the current moment, when Republicans believe, accurately, that they can't win numerical majorities for their policy preferences, and so must game the Constitutional system, this is history we can't ignore. Foner is not despairing.

Rights can be gained, and rights can be taken away. A century and a half after the end of slavery, the project of equal citizenship remains unfinished. ... And because the ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy are always contested, our understanding of the Reconstruction amendments will forever be a work in progress. So long as the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow continue to plague our society, we can expect Americans to return to the nation's second founding and find there new meanings for our fractious and troubled times.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Prosecute them!

This strikes me as bold. Elizabeth Warren proposed Tuesday that, as soon as she is inaugurated as President, she'll set up a task force to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute corruption and crimes by the outgoing Trump administration.

Establish a Justice Department Task Force to investigate corruption during the Trump administration and to hold government officials accountable for illegal activity. Donald Trump has run the most corrupt administration in history. He was impeached for withholding foreign aid in an effort to try to benefit his re-election campaign. He has enriched himself and his business through the power of his office. And there are public reports of potentially illegal corruption in every corner of his administration.

If we are to move forward to restore public confidence in government and deter future wrongdoing, we cannot simply sweep this corruption under the rug in a new administration. That’s why I will direct the Justice Department to establish a task force to investigate violations by Trump administration officials of federal bribery laws, insider trading laws, and other anti-corruption and public integrity laws, and give that task force independent authority to pursue any substantiated criminal and civil violations. I have also committed to establishing a task force to investigate accusations of serious violations by immigration officials during the Trump era. 

Wow! If she were to be able to make this happen, the GOPers would charge political revenge. But, after all, they do seem to commit all sorts of crimes, casually and habitually. So prosecute 'em!

This is what the Obama administration failed to do after Wall Street hot shots crashed the global economy in 2008. No one went to jail for peddling phony paper investments that trashed the whole system. We are still living with the fall out of that dumb, and possibly corrupt, administration decision. Nothing ensures cynicism and indifference toward democratic government more than watching crooks walk free while ordinary people suffer. ... And then the crooks got even richer.

Warren is saying no to this very concretely and we can assume the billionaire boys will fight her even harder. Will other Dem aspirants make the same pledge?

TPM pushed her on possible limits to her approach:

... a Warren campaign aide emphasized to TPM the limits in scope of the task force.

“The plan calls for a DOJ task force with independent authority and a limited scope to look at specific current laws that were broken: Federal bribery laws, insider trading laws, and other anti-corruption and public integrity laws,” the aide said. “It will investigate independently and prosecute or not prosecute as they see fit.”

The aide added that the proposal is not about “political rivals” but “restoring the rule of law.

“The best way to turn the page on Trump-era corruption is for people who broke the law to be held accountable so that future officials — including in a Warren Administration — will know that violating the public trust and breaking anti-corruption and public integrity laws will come with consequences.”

I couldn't agree more, but she's going to take a lot of shit for this one.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Hillary Clinton: please just shut up

It's not about you. I don't care if you don't like Bernie and especially his (apparently young and male) intemperate followers.

The 2020 campaign is about dumping Trump. There are millions of us prepared to work our butts off even if the Democratic electorate saddles the effort with an uninspiring "moderate" or old white man.

You can stuff your ego and get with the job. Yes, I know, that's been your life. Struggle is long; that's why they call it struggle.
Yes, I know, she's backed off her original bull-bleep. But I expect better of her and her tribe.
I was just cleaning out my stash of Hillary Clinton images and damned if I didn't have to use one again.
This abbreviated post is the consequence of having lost a couple of hours, along with the hard working E.P., trying to get our calendars to sync. They never did. I'm as mad at Google and Apple as at Hillary. Not yet a good day.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Without grounding in human rights, there is no ground to rise from

Last week I had the chance to attend a talk by Noah Bullock, director of Cristosal, on his organization's work in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Cristosal works across the Northern Triangle of Central America to monitor forced displacement by physical and sexual extortion and violence, to create models for humanitarian, psychological, and legal assistance to victims of human rights violations, and to demonstrate effective strategies for sustainable, community-based victim protection and support.

What's that boilerplate mean? Cristosal is currently assisting litigation for recognition of and compensation to the survivors of the El Mozote massacre and other war crimes of decades past within the legal institutions of the Salvadoran state. This effort strengthens what should be foundations of reliable rule of law in that violent country. Today, all these countries suffer from oligarchic gangster governments which do not provide security to their people. Chronic violence and the nonexistence of effective state institutions that might protect people in their homes drive migration both within these countries and out of the countries. Cristosal has been instrumental in supporting local initiatives to recognize the rights of citizens to live in their home places in peace and without fear.

And, since these Central American countries come nowhere near providing their people the security they have a right to expect from law enforcement, Cristosal -- where it can -- provides immediate protection to move people out of danger. Moreover, they are attempting to show that people displaced by violence can be reintegrated into new communities where they'll be safe and can live in peace. This is not simple -- it's not as if anyone anywhere really wants an influx of traumatized newcomers; that sentiment is not unique to the U.S. Before Trump came along, the USAID funded some of these initiatives but nowadays the US government likes the gangster status quo. As in so many policy areas, our government acts as if it hopes all those annoying Spanish-speaking poor people would just die where they are.

Cristosal is well known in El Salvador and the rest of Central America for its work; the organization is demanding that governments and all of us take human rights as inviolable and worth defending.

I did not come up as a leftish activist in a time when human rights were at the top of our minds. In the decades of the struggle within the United States for African-American civil rights, during the heady rush of decolonization across the globe, and of the struggle against imperial resistance to national freedoms, we thought that some form of revolution was the way to justice. The suffering people would (and should) rise up and replace the bums in power. Unhappily, the track record of 20th century revolutions has not been that good. We thought "human rights" was something some First World liberals tried to impose on the world after they won their anti-fascist war in 1945 -- a good thing, but peripheral to the real conflict of classes and races.

Meanwhile, it was activists in what we then called the Third World -- developing countries as we'd probably call them now -- who occasionally reminded enthusiastic North Americans that international institutions like the the United Nations and the World Court should be guarantors of human rights, of human decency. They knew something about permanent struggle and the need for institutional bulwarks of freedom that we thought we could skip over.

On the Cristosal website, Noah Bullock explains how a nice young man from Montana who landed in El Salvador in 2005 (and stayed), understands the centrality of human rights law and concepts in the long arc toward justice and freedom.

“Human rights were taught to me as a historical process, and every generation has to be able to understand human rights and violations in their own time.

"Our moment has changed significantly from when these frameworks were established, so we are challenged now to find ways to apply these same principles in programming to address our moment’s greatest challenges of displacement by violence, poverty, and inequality.”

I am appending here a short film (10 minutes) that tells a story of Central American violence as lived by some of its victims. It has been shown more than 10 times on Salvadoran television -- and that legislature recently enacted a law purporting to guarantee that police should protect citizens. They neglected to append any funding though ... And so the struggle continues ...

Monday, January 20, 2020

Celebrating engagement

Battered, bruised, but still striving toward the beloved community. We are fortunate that Dr. King has inspired this day to acknowledge this necessity.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Credo for sanity in hard times

... it is curiosity rather than certainty that must propel us. What can be so exciting about books is watching authors end up far from where they began, carried forth by not knowing, wanting to know, then slowly knowing more, realizing what is still not known, plowing on, thinking, rethinking, going on a meandering intellectual journey that justifies you later going on a fractal of that journey with them.

Anand Giridharadas

I need to find more time to read. How do I do that?

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Saturday scenes: San Francisco smokers

These aren't happy sightings. There are an awful lot of youngish people sucking on cancer sticks in this city.
... sitting in a doorway ...

... leaning against a wall ...

... next to the loading platform ...

And this isn't about vaping, which 80 percent of us voted to ban in 2019.

Even under Trump, the Federal Drug Administration is moving toward requiring some much more potent visual warnings on cigarette packs. You can preview some new warnings here.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Two views on policy for children

Paul Krugman asks: Why Does America Hate Its Children? In typical Krugman fashion, he documents what other countries do for kids and digs into causes of the U.S.-diference. He is not just throwing about invective.

The answer, I’d suggest, goes beyond the fact that children can’t vote, while seniors can and do. There has also been a poisonous interaction between racial antagonism and bad social analysis.

These days, political support for programs that aid children is surely hurt by the fact that less than half the population under 15 is non-Hispanic white. But even before immigration transformed America’s ethnic landscape, there was a widespread perception that programs like Aid to Families With Dependent Children basically helped Those People — you know, the bums on welfare, the welfare queens driving Cadillacs. ...

... What this means is that we’ve established a basically vicious system under which children can’t get the help they need unless their parents find jobs that don’t exist. And a growing body of evidence says that this system is destructive as well as cruel.

The complete column is worth pondering.

Krugman's method is to think down through the data. Some people think up -- through their lives. I was reminded of this video. Here's the story of two dads whose family experiences point where we are going and something we need for a more child-affirming society.

Friday cat blogging: some outdoor cats

We always tell Morty he's not allowed to go out -- the outside is not a place for cats. But even in the city, some felines operate under different constraints.

Sunbathing in the front yard can be quite pleasant.

Encountered recently while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Better be careful what you ask for ...

Reportedly the Trump administration is currying favor with its white evangelical Christian supporters by scratching one of their grievance itches.

The Trump administration is moving to strengthen protections for students who want to pray or worship in public schools and proposing changes that would make it easier for religious groups that provide social services to access federal funds....

The Education Department plans to issue guidance that will require local school districts to certify that they have no rules or regulations that conflict with students’ right to pray at school. It will also require states to notify the Education Department if there are complaints against a school district regarding the right to pray. The department does not have similar reporting requirements for states when a school district is accused of other types of discrimination.

Should this country ever again get a government that impartially executes the laws, who do they think is likely to come complaining that their religious observances are being discriminated against by institutions? That's right, it's the religious practices of unpopular minorities that are really on the chopping block. You know, like Muslims, or Native Americans, or Jews.

The most organized of white Christian evangelicals used to understand that.

Baptists contend that this mutual benefit works best when the institutions of church and state are separate and when neither seeks to control the other. The state is not to dictate doctrine, worship style, organization, membership or personnel for leadership to the church. The church is not to seek the power or the financial support of the state for spiritual ends. Such is the model set forth in the New Testament.

Baptists: Separation of Church and State

But sadly, no more. Gripped with fear as they feel their cultural hold dwindle, most have become suckers for a con man.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Is the presidency for sale?

Over last weekend, I gave myself a breather -- I watched four delicious NFL Divisional Round playoff games. And consequently, I saw an awful lot of former New York mayor and finance world billionaire Micheal Bloomberg. Well, I can't say I actually absorbed his blizzard of 30 second ads; like perhaps most TV consumers, mute and fast-forward are my friends. But I sure know he's running for president.

Right on cue, on Monday morning, his people had successfully placed articles explaining and boosting his strategy to win the Democratic nomination. Basically, he's skipping the usual first four primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) where voters expect aspirants to show up and demonstrate their chops. Instead, he's pouring unlimited sums of his own money into big states which hold their primaries later, like California, where many candidates who contest the early states don't have the cash to make an impact. And he's building out organization in places, like Arizona and North Carolina, where Democrats will need to contest to have a chance in November. And he's promised that organization will be there for the nominee, even it isn't him.

It's a darned attractive picture to an anxious, ideologically and temperamentally divided Party. John Ellis, a former political columnist for the Boston Globe, lays out Bloomberg's beguiling offer:

Bloomberg is going to spend an astronomical amount of money on this race. Probably at least $1 billion. Maybe twice that. Possibly even more. Numbers like that upend every model of every presidential race in history. He can buy every news adjacency on cable and local television stations from now until November and not make a dent in his net worth. U.S. politics has never seen such financial throw weight in a presidential campaign.

Look at it from the point of view of the “down ballot” Democratic candidates. If you’re running for the U.S. Senate, or in one of the 100 “competitive” House races, or for governor or state senate, it’s likely that one of Bloomberg’s many super PACs is going to put vast amounts of money behind your campaign with “issues” TV advertising, digital advertising, voter-registration drives and organizational support. Buttressing that will be his national campaign infrastructure, staffed and financed at a level never before seen in presidential politics.

By Election Day, every anti-Trump voter in every precinct will have been contacted repeatedly, and then driven to the polls, if need be. Which will increase Mr. or Ms. Down-Ballot Democratic Candidate’s vote by, what? Two percent? Five percent? Ten percent? It doesn’t matter. It will add untold votes to the D side of the ledger.

I need to say right off that, as a person who works campaigns, this is a very attractive picture. Bloomberg can certainly find people to work for him. Campaigning is a business. He may not get the best in the business from the outset because those firms and individuals are probably currently working for one of the more conventional candidates. But there are plenty of second tier figures who are going to want into a campaign with an unlimited budget. And there will be novices to do the grunt work. (I confess I did this early in my exploration of how campaigns function, working for someone I didn't particularly like who had the funding to show how the job could be done with enough money.) If Bloomberg can push into the top stratum of candidates, he will eventually attract top talent.

Meanwhile, the effort is audacious.

“Either it is going to be the best primary campaign in American history, or the greatest IE that has ever been created,” said campaign manager Kevin Sheekey, using the political lingo for an independent expenditure campaign, the super PAC-type efforts that wealthy interests use to influence elections.

All parts of any campaign that have been run before — an aggressive constituency operation, a surrogate team, a Spanish-language effort, local media teams in dozens of states so far — have been built out. ...

I do question one part of the apparent Bloomberg plan: yes, data whizzes, and communications gurus, and even phone banks are available for sale in the campaign world. But the promise that "every anti-Trump voter" can be "contacted repeatedly and driven to the polls" will likely be far harder to fulfill. That kind of off-the-shelf campaign apparatus is mostly non-existent within the politics industry: it doesn't pay well enough. Placing TV ads and designing "message" delivery is where consultants make their money, not in the untidy process of genuine voter contact.

More important than the technical details of the Bloomberg project is whether it is what Democratic voters want from a candidate. Bloomberg has a decent record working against gun violence and against climate change indifference -- but also an engineer's approach to problems which leads to his running over the people and passions for justice which make democracy hard. This was the guy whose approach to reducing crime was stopping and frisking all young black and brown men in his city over and over and over again. (Crime reductions in New York were no more or less than in cities which had more respect for their citizens' dignity.)

Bloomberg is included in my pledge for 2020 -- I'll work to elect anyone who emerges out of the Democratic Party scrum. But we can do better. And democracy will do better if Trump-anxiety doesn't enable Mr. Got Rocks to buy the job.

As Elizabeth Warren tweeted:

If the only way to run for president of the United States is either to be a billionaire or to suck up to billionaires, then we're going to have a country that works better for billionaires—and worse for everyone else.

Meanings in murky moments

Ever wonder what the Orangeman means when he complains about persecution from the "Deep State"? Erudite Partner takes on the question in "It Doesn’t Mean What He Thinks It Means." Worth a read!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

What's it like to live across from a shelter?

If I wasn't aware that the Buena Vista Horace Mann (BVHM) Stay Over Program (SOP) for homeless families was using the gym across our street every night, I'd have no idea the school was serving as a shelter for students and parents. The shelter program doesn't cause a ripple around here. I notice the woman who delivers meals in the morning when she competes with everyone else for parking, but that's about it.

Teachers heard from children that they wished they could stay at their school overnight; miraculously, both the school district bureaucracy and city politicians got onboard with the idea a year ago. Demand was slow to pick up, but now the program seems to be going well.

The City Controller's office has released an evaluation with some statistics:

A total of 55 families, or 183 individuals, have used the shelter since the program began.

... The current contract runs until June 30 and costs $1.2 million for ongoing operating expenses, according to the controller. That factors out to about $35 per bed a night.

Who is using the space? According to a summary of the Controller's report, the population looks a lot like most of the families I see around the school every day.

...74% of individuals connected through the SOP identified as Latino and at least 32% speak Spanish as their primary language. The Controller’s Office found that the program has provided a culturally responsive service that directly meets the needs of Spanish-speaking families experiencing homelessness or housing instability for the first time.

... The Controller’s Office also found that the services at the SOP include unique features not present in other congregate emergency family shelters. For example, the BVHM shelter provides language services, showers on-site, a secure storage area, and families can reserve space at the shelter for multiple days at a time. The Controller’s Office found that nearly all participating families were assessed at an Access Point, where families can access the system of care and available resources.

Given the number of unhoused people now living in the city, this is a drop in the bucket. But providing for needy kids at a place they already trust seems a major initiative, beyond its small scale.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Kicking 'em when they are down ...

Los Angeles Times writer John Myers reports:

There are few policy topics with which Gov. Gavin Newsom has more familiarity than homelessness. ...

During a stemwinder of a news conference on Friday rolling out his proposed state budget, Newsom scoffed at those who wondered about his broken campaign promise to appoint someone to lead his administration’s anti-homelessness effort.

“You want to know who’s the homeless czar?” Newsom asked reporters. “I’m the homeless czar in the state of California.”

People in Newsom's old home town might not react happily to that. His "Care Not Cash" policies as mayor certainly made people without places to live more miserable, but didn't do anything to reduce the number of people living on the streets. Far from it.

The unhoused need houses, but all ours are going to winners in a grossly unequal economy. That poorly distributed boom gives Gov. Gavin a big budget to play with. And the population of people without houses grows.

Still true:

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Taking a breathe today

I'm getting tired of this. After a month with a bad cold and hacking cough, I still have only a facsimile of what I consider normal strength for daily living. I stumble about amid bouts of chills and weakness -- and naturally only do what I have to do.

Jill U. Adams offers a terrific description of the aftermath of diagnosed streptococcus pneumonia. I don't have that -- but in terms of how I'm living, the absence of diagnosis doesn't make any difference.

More here when I have more energy.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Saturday scenery: a couple of busts and faces in plenty

Just sitting by the side of a path -- I don't know why.

Am I looking at them or are they looking at me?

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, January 10, 2020

It's on Congress

If we don't like the U.S. flirting with war with Iran, we can't just blame the administration's crew of short-sighted nincompoops. Nor can we just blame Trump for wanting a flashy assassination to distract from his impeachment.

Fred Kaplan thunders that we're seeing Congressional abdication by both parties. Our elected leaders are afraid to do the job they were elected to do.

... the majority of members of the 21st-century Congress—in both parties—don’t want the responsibility of going to war, mainly because they don’t want the blame if the war goes badly, as wars often do.

Trump and his crew are taking advantage of this shirking to push their powers further, and they are counting on Congress to let them. Yes, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, but the Senate will almost certainly acquit him—and might not even hold a trial, by any meaningful sense of the word. And even when the House was holding its impeachment hearings, the Democratic chairmen declined to enforce their subpoenas of witnesses and documents, declined to hold no-shows in contempt of Congress, and declined to have marshals arrest them, which might have made everybody take the proceedings a bit more seriously.

Trump, Pence, Esper, and the others are using Congress as a doormat. They scoff and smirk at the questions they’re asked—at the notion that anyone outside the White House, the Pentagon, and Foggy Bottom has the right to ask questions. And they’ll keep heaving their contempt on Congress, on whatever articles of the Constitution they don’t much like, on any Americans who didn’t vote for their boss, until a majority of legislators take their own jobs seriously—or the voters replace them with candidates who say that they will.

Got to stay after those Congresscritters.

Friday cat blogging: meet Jack

No, not Morty, who is still a happy survivor of his autumn adventures. Meet Jack, a splendid fellow who visited with his humans during the terrible nine days when Morty disappeared into the wild.
This fellow, once feral but now somewhat tamed, is in his inquisitive prime, eager to explore new surroundings and people.

He quickly found a dominating perch.

When Morty was found there was a bit of hissing and Jack ended up confined to a bedroom for the rest of his stay.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Welcoming the new D.A.

Chesa Boudin was inaugurated as San Francisco's new District Attorney yesterday. This reformer, experienced public defender, child of lefty jailbirds, was decidedly not what the city's elite had in mind for the job. But the position is elected and the people did want him and the new regime he stands for.

So naturally the SF Chronicle tried to appropriate the new guy to the a lineage of previous prosecutors who weren't there when it came to police abuses.

... while progressive prosecutors were once unusual around the country, San Francisco has a legacy of electing reform-minded district attorneys, including the last three, [George] Gascón, Kamala Harris and Terence Hallinan, who was elected in 1995. Other cities, like Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis, have followed San Francisco’s lead and recently elected progressive district attorneys.

I know a lot of San Franciscans who would question the "progressive" credentials of Harris and Gascón -- in fact they elected Boudin to clean up the office. But the Chron wants in on the new regime ... in a phrase used by John F. Kennedy: "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan."

For a more realistic account of Boudin's joy-filled inauguration, check out Mission Local. This story includes a video of Justice Sonya Sotomayor congratulating Boudin on his new job as well as a summary of some of the challenges the D.A. will face immediately. He's walking into a legacy of grievance and, as Supervisor Hillary Ronen reminded him,

“They will try to undermine your ideas in any way that they can — and they will attack you in brutal ways,” she said. “But they will only have the power to succeed if we let them — and we will not let them.”

For me, the most important quote from the event was from Emily Lee, the director of San Francisco Rising, which helped organize for Boudin during his campaign.

“Winning is hard — governing is harder,” Lee said, adding that Boudin was “put in [the DA’s] office by a movement — and he is now accountable to that movement.”

Too often we the people stop paying attention to elected officials once they take office. We can't do that.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Why U.S. elites are suckers for war with Iran

The U.S. policy elite, usually of both parties, hates Iran with a recurrent, near-maniacal, fury that is not shared by most of us.

I thought about this when I read that one response to the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Suleimani was a rush of queries to Google about a military draft. Are we being drafted into yet another war in the far off place we call "Middle East"? Seems so.

I've probably written this summary before but it seems worth repeating. What explains the endless elite animosity toward a country about which few of us think very often? I see three streams that intermingle.

Historic guilt
Persia -- modern Iran -- is unlike most of the countries we use and abuse in the so-called Middle East. Its boundaries are not some accidental affliction inherited from European colonial conniving after World War I as is true for most of the Arabic-speaking countries. Persia, an ancient Farsi-speaking Shiite Muslim land, was and is more or less what it has always been: a rich and diverse nation that is conscious of its history as the center of the civilized world when Europe was a feudal backwater.

In the aftermath of World War II, Iran was on its way to becoming a modern parliamentary democracy. British oil companies combined with a cowboy C.I.A. agent, Kermit Roosevelt, to overthrow its elected Prime Minister in 1953 and stick the unhappy Iranians with several decades of repressive, authoritarian rule led by the oil companies.

In 1979, Iranians -- left, right, and center -- rose up to take back their nation. Such eruptions are not neat and orderly and Iranians ended up with the Shiite Islamic rulers who still run the place. (Repressively, we should understand.) Along the way, nationalists seized the U.S. Embassy, grossly mistreated U.S. diplomats, and crowed over their dramatic escapade. Protection of diplomats is a real imperative of any international law-based system, but it's understandable that many Iranians didn't much credit the U.S. commitment to good behavior. The ensuing 444 day hostage crisis became a domestic political football in the U.S. and helped bring down Democratic President Jimmy Carter who looked ineffectual while Ronald Reagan wandered around beating his chest. (He was, after all, a celluloid cowboy.) For a slice of the U.S. elite, of which our current president is an exemplar,

If it’s always 1979, it’s always 1979.

David Graham

Iran remained hostile the U.S. while the U.S. remained hostile to Iran. During the entire 1980s, we encouraged and funded Iraq's Saddam Hussein in his war on the Islamic state, a murderous conflict that killed at least half a million combatants.

Iran didn't take U.S. hostility sitting down. In 1983 Iran almost certainly was responsible for helping Hezobollah, its allied Lebanese Shiite militia, carry out Beirut suicide truck bomb attacks which killed 241 U.S. military personnel, 58 French military personnel and 6 civilians. For a somewhat younger slice of the U.S. foreign policy elite, this was the opening act of a war with Iran they've never given up on. It's little remembered today, but that era's pseudo-cowboy president knew better than to be drawn into overt hostilities: Reagan quickly withdrew U.S. troops from Lebanon.

In the years since, Iran and the U.S. have warred covertly with a few episodes breaking into public consciousness as when we shot down an Iranian civilian airliner and they supported and trained Shiite Iraqis fightings against the U.S occupation after 2003. Then again, sometimes these enemies have been temporarily on the same side as when Iran, in operations led by the assassinated General Soleimani, helped the U.S. find al-Qaeda terrorists after the 9/11 attacks. Iran, too, wanted ISIS eradicated. This is a complicated part of the world -- a little much for monochrome U.S. thinking.

Our sick relationship with the state of Israel
In the U.S., relations with Israel are about domestic politics. Given the (more and more inaccurate) assumption that the route to the (tiny) Jewish vote runs through fealty to Israeli political aims, U.S. politicians have more often than not been onboard with Israeli demands we stand in for them in containing Iran. Israel does have something to worry about. Unlike their venal and repressive Sunni Arab neighbor states, Iran is a modern country of 80 million people, scientifically educated and capable of making a real threat if it came to hostilities. The Obama-era "Iran deal" was meant to walk back the threat of Iran advancing toward nuclear capability.

This wasn't good enough either for Israeli right wingers or our right wingers. They didn't want Iran constrained. They wanted the country obliterated. Trump did their bidding by violating the nuclear deal and thus pushing the region toward hot war.

And then there are our rapture-seeking evangelical Christian whack doodles ...
Apparently Secretary of State Pompeo is one of these, as is Vice President Pence. These nutcases believe that the Persians are tools of Satan and fighting them will bring on the battle of Armageddon, bringing back their weird version of a Messiah. Or some such. If they manage to start a war with Iran, they are just helping fulfill Biblical prophecies.

I cry: "Heaven preserve us!"

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Champions keep emerging ... into the fight

Who knew the mayor of Kansas's capital, Topeka, was a tough Latina? Michelle De La Isla is taking on a sitting Republican congressperson in a very conservative Congressional district. She won her previous election by a mere 501 votes. No idea whether she can win this one, but progressives can't win where we don't contest the seats.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Something I never thought to see

This is not the world I was born into and that's a happy fact.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Once again, showing up for peace

The priest at the church I attend remarked to me one day, "you know, we can't expect people to show up out of a sense of duty anymore ..." As it happens, I don't go to church out of duty; I like the values and community I find there.

But when it comes to small, necessary, urgent, demonstrations against the latest U.S. imperial atrocity, duty is what gets me there. Sure, I see a lot of friends ... but must I go? Well, yes.

That said, rallying Saturday in San Francisco against escalating U.S. hostilities against Iran, was surprisingly interesting.

The good people of Code Pink set a theme that seemed to resonate generally:
We know what happens when the U.S. turns its military loose on some place we've decided we don't like: a lot of people -- mostly innocent of any crime -- die. And the unfortunate country ends up a violent failed state. The last 20 years have provided irrefutable evidence of this conclusion.

A slogan from several signs from slightly different tendencies caught my attention. One example:
And here's another:
In most any antiwar protest I've ever been part of those signs would have had a different slant:
"No war ON Vietnam" "No war ON Afghanistan" "No war ON Iraq"

Does the "No war WITH Iran" slogan reflect that antiwar people now understand that the countries we attack fight back? That our vaunted military might find itself someday retreating with tail between legs? This seems the most likely outcome after we make a cruel and horrible mess of Iran ... have the lessons of last 20 years (and of the last 50 years if we'd paid attention) begun to get through to the willing?

It becomes the task of the peace movement, once again, to spread the bad news that overkill is just that -- overkill from which nothing good comes.

One more sign that looked backward:
Actually, 2003 was a crime. But the connection is made.