Thursday, April 30, 2020

Here we go again, inflating enemies

If this NY Times headline gives you the shivers, it just proves you were a conscious human in the run up in 2002-3 to the Iraq war. Our "leaders" are at it again, ginning up enemies for fun and profit -- then to try to grab the oil; now to try to save Trump's sorry ass from the whupping that voters aggrieved about dead grandmothers and lost paychecks are going to give him in November.

And as in 2003, too many Democrats are suckers for making China the designated enemy of the day. Come on Joe Biden -- you fell for non-existent weapons of mass destruction last time. This time, can you just recognize that natural disasters happen, that animal bugs sometimes jump to humans?

Sure, China did a lousy job controlling the epidemic at first -- but neither Europe nor the USA has anything to brag about. China is often a bad actor in the world, oppressing its Muslim minority and repressing its ethnic citizens. But picking a dumb fight will only make bad worse -- there and here. And again, we've got nothing to crow about as Trump dumps international agreements on nukes and climate that he obviously neither read nor understood.

This image seems to fit Trump's apparent decision to declare the COVID-19 emergency over:

Another sort of medical hero

In a news clip about how U.S. doctors and nurses are having compensation cut by hospitals whose business model depends on procedures currently cancelled or postponed because of COVID-19, an aghast British Broadcasting gave Dr. Jane Jenab the last word.

"It's criminal that these people are having their hours and their pay slashed at a time when they are risking their lives, when it's the most dangerous time of our careers to be coming in to work every day and when really they should be receiving something like hazard pay," says Dr Jane Jenab.

Dr Jenab is a physician in emergency medicine in Denver, Colorado. To her, the problem has become clear.

"One of the biggest issues in US medicine today is that it has become a business. In the past, that was not the case," says Dr Jenab.

"They tend to run very lean with these hospitals, with these large corporate medical groups because honestly they are much more concerned about profit than their patients," she says, clearly impassioned.

Dr Jenab says she feels the abrupt loss of income suffered by medical staff is just one systemic problem in US private healthcare that has been thrown into sharp relief by the coronavirus crisis.

"One of the primary conversations that we're having at the moment [as doctors in the US] is when this is all over, how do we make real and lasting change for our profession?" she says.

"It's hard not to realize how drastically we need to return the focus of medicine away from business and back to caring for our patients."

She's right, of course. It takes guts to speak out against the system that provides your livelihood. She's got guts.

Jane is one of my longtime comrades on the Clydesdale Virtual Racing [Running, Jogging, Stumbling] Team. We've been doing this virtual thing, sharing our joys and struggles, for decades. So proud to know her.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

So I started wondering about Africa ...

It's hard to stop raging and mourning the 60,000 or so excess deaths this country has seen in the pandemic, so many more than might have happened if our political system had generated leaders who would heed scientists.

And then I find myself thinking of the many places in the world even less equipped than we are to respond to a novel lethal virus. Big thinker Ezra Klein interviewed Bill Gates, the Microsoft engineering brainiac and now capitalist health philanthropist, and he's having the same thought, equipped with a lot more information. The entire interview is worth listening to.

So I dug around a bit. The Mail & Guardian from South Africa reports that the developing situation might have been worse.

At the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) African headquarters in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, staff members have been quietly impressed with how most African countries have responded to the pandemic. Although resources are scarce, the majority of leaders have taken difficult, proactive decisions to contain the spread of Covid-19, and are listening carefully to scientists and public health experts.

Most, but not all.

There is a short list of countries that the WHO is worried about. Insiders say this list includes Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Eritrea. Madagascar, South Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe are also countries of concern. The list is topped by Tanzania.

Since I have a good friend in Tanzania, I inquired about what she is seeing. Her family is holed up in a rural area; they are fine and feeling reasonably secure. But also, she retired from the public health field and what she's seen of the local response has been encouraging. Schools are closed; people are sheltering insofar as they can. She sees the danger in crowded cities like Dar es Salaam. She pointed me to African Arguments, an English language publication which offers a variety of perspectives on the continent.

And there I came upon this:
One size fits all? Why lockdowns might not be Africa’s best bet.

Many governments in Africa have also imposed lockdowns to deal with the pandemic. Yet these countries have radically different age demographics to those in Asia and Europe. Take two extremes. In Japan, 40% of people are over 55, and 28% are over 65. In Uganda, the equivalent figures are 5% and 2%. In Japan, 13% of the population is made of up children under 14. In Uganda, this figure is 48%.

These different age demographics are very important. Mortality rates for coronavirus start to increase for people aged 55 and higher. Meanwhile, young people are statistically highly unlikely to suffer severe symptoms. This means that in countries with a lower proportion of old people, the relative benefits of lockdown are more limited and are more likely to be outweighed by the downsides. ...

I'm not qualified to opine on this thesis, but I'm sure a lot of better informed people are thinking about it.

Wondering about Africa led me to a paper and thread of comments about the prevalence of COVID-19 infection among people living with HIV, a vast percentage of the population in parts of the continent including particularly South Africa. Dr. Josep M. Llibre reported from Spain at the 2020 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. Contrary to the fears and expectations of so many of us ...

In Spain, we have sadly surpassed 100,000 cases of COVID-19 at the time of this writing (April 1, 2020), with a mortality rate of 8.9% among those diagnosed. Quite unexpectedly, we have seen that PLWH [People Living With HIV] are not at increased risk of acquiring COVID-19 or of progressing to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) once infected, across the 3 risk classes defined above. For reasons that are as yet unknown, it appears that their risk may even be lower than that of the general population.

The doctor answers questions from international medical colleagues making similar observations in the comments. The whole is absolutely worth reading.

It's easy to go down an internet rabbit hole during this lockdown -- but this one felt worth the time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I'm going shopping this morning ...

so I thought I'd throw up this. It's extremely clear about how the grocery supply chain is disrupted by the coronavirus and our shutdown. The food system isn't designed to function in these conditions.

Neither are we.

We acquired some of those #10 cans of tomatoes from Costco. Turns out everything is going to be tomato soup for awhile.

Monday, April 27, 2020

"The essential and life-sustaining purpose of front-line workers ..."

Here's Fred Clark's story of working in a Big Box warehouse -- a "home improvement center" -- located in an east coast exurb where COVID-19 is all around -- but not (yet) within his immediate home.

First, in February, long before the virus was known to have arrived in the USA, masks and other protective equipment flew out the door. Then, the cleaning supply section which he is responsible for stocking was stripped of anything containing bleach. Next all the toilet paper was gone.

And then, in March, it was here. Most businesses and restaurants were closed. Many of the contractors who provide the backbone of our business were suddenly idled. But we were deemed an “essential” and “life-sustaining” business, and so we were staying open.

That first week was really disturbing. The place was packed. We’re in a relatively affluent area and it seemed like all of the people who suddenly found they didn’t have to go to the office decided to go shopping instead, heading out to the only stores that were still open. We had little paper badges we pinned on our aprons, politely asking customers to respect a 6-foot social distancing from us and from one another, but in that first week almost nobody was respecting that. (We asked if we’d be allowed to wear badges that instead read “Step the #@$% back.” But no.)

We sold out of paint that first week. It seemed that people suddenly stuck at home staring at their walls decided it’d be the perfect time to change the color of those walls, and so our paint desk and our paint associates got mobbed. They built a kind of fort or buffer zone out of those famous five-gallon plastic buckets we sell — four high and three deep all the way around the counter where customers pressed up against one another, leaning in over each other over the buckets. It was bonkers. Like something out of a George Romero zombie movie.

Gradually, management cooperated with workers to better control the flow of potential infection. Hours were shortened; masks of a sort provided; plastic shields held back clamoring customers at the checkstands. Much of the store's business transitioned to curb side pick up of online orders assembled by staff. Workers are probably less endangered, though not necessarily more respected, than they were when all this started.

With me living here, going to and from the Big Box where everybody from everywhere is still rubbing shoulders every day, I feel like I’m endangering the people I live with. That’s not cool. We’re getting a small (and fiercely conditional) hazard-pay bonus, and they’ve upped OT pay, but that doesn’t erase the anxiety we’re all feeling about our families and our co-workers.

Like Nancy, for instance. She’s my plant lady. She looks exactly like the retired librarian that she is and she knows more about the flowers and herbs and vegetables we have for sale than the folks from the nursery that supplies them. Or Frank, the 80-something guy who’s worked in the electrical department forever, shrugged off cancer and a stroke, and still packs down more stock than most people half his age. I’m very fond of both of them, and very worried every time I see them in the building.

Or think of any of the other grizzled old semi-retirees we’ve got working in our store. Many of them are Fox-addled old right-wingers convinced by their non-news news diets that this is all just an over-hyped flu being blown out of proportion to make their favorite president look bad, but that doesn’t keep me from being horribly worried about all of them. (Workers 65-and-up are getting a small additional bonus, but that feels a bit like one of those Colonial Penn policies to cover funeral expenses.)

Not surprisingly, Clark wonders why his store is considered "essential." So do I, though I find that freedom to browse a hardware store or even a Lowe's or Home Depot is something I yearn for if we ever get out of this. I don't expect that to be soon for me; I expect older people will still be told to stay in even if some others can resume more "normal" activity.

Here's how Clark has come to understand why his work might be thought essential:

Just like the supermarkets are still open not just for milk, but for chocolate milk too, why shouldn’t we continue selling unnecessary, discretionary things like mulch and grass seed? And doesn’t it make it easier to maintain this isolation, make it more likely that people will mostly stay home, if they’re at least able to buy what they need to tackle those projects around the house they’ve suddenly got time to do? Maybe that new patio furniture set I sold yesterday will be the thing that makes quarantine bearable for the folks who bought it and therefore the thing that keeps them at home where they need to be during the weeks or months ahead?

The least those of us who can stay home can do is thank these workers -- and have their backs if they ever organize to take on the retail behemoths.

Enjoy it all.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

For the record: The office of the president is vacant

This was written before Toddler Trump suggested we inject ourselves with bleach. And it's still accurate. It's Kevin Drum's summary of what he concluded from a month of Trump's raging press conferences:

Let’s review our president’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

• He has no plan for mass testing.

• He has already let everyone know he’s unenthusiastic about masks.

• He wants to “liberate” states from stay-at-home orders.

• He wants to open up non-essential businesses as soon as possible.

• He appears to have no particular opinion about social distancing, school closings, or large gatherings.

In other words, he literally has no concrete response to the pandemic at all, aside from closing our borders and passing along damaging fictions about vaccines and folk remedies. ...

David Von Drehle summarizes our plight:

We are launched on a great experiment. Can this union of states, this republic of shopkeepers, this democratic experiment, this mecca of individual initiative, meet this crisis as one people when our leader is out to lunch?

... The captain and his barmy crew have put us to sea in a lifeboat. We have no choice but to reach shore without them. Let’s keep paddling.

On our current trajectory, we're one of the largest and richest failed states in human history. Or not, if we decide we can do better starting in November.

Saturday, April 25, 2020


And it's up to us to make sure it stays unforgettable. It's a question of survival.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Friday cat blogging

Morty is no more.
Over the last couple of weeks, his multiple infirmities seemed to compound and he withered away. When he could no longer walk nor eat, we accepted it was time to let him go. He lived eight good, affectionate, years with us -- and we reciprocated.

Thanks to the SPCA for their kindness to us in this necessary passage. We are heart-broken.

Friday cat blogging will be on hiatus for awhile.

Dispatch from the dawn in the closed-down Mission

Unexpectedly, our present "shelter in place" condition has revived my jogging practice. I'm out most mornings at 6:30am, loping a slow 5K that includes long stretches in the bike lanes on Valencia Street.

I'm not alone out there. There's a much younger and more ambitious runner in a bright orange jacket who passes me each day around my first mile mark, off to I know not where. I see the beginnings of a line of younger folks just forming outside Ritual Coffee Roasters. At the door of Mission Pet Hospital, there is almost always someone carrying an animal in a carrier -- I guess they open at 7am? A few cyclists ride by.

All the way along Valencia, people sleep in doorways; as the season has turned warmer, the street feels slightly more hospitable for the cardboard and blanket set. I see people I recognize from among the unhoused community around St. John the Evangelist -- a woman pushing her ever-present shopping basket; a fellow wearing the protective gear of a manual laborer. We say hello sometimes. "Yes, we're still alright."

Today my routine was interrupted as I passed a tent on the sidewalk only half a block from the police station. A female voice was screaming "Get off of me!" The tent lurched a bit. There seemed to be people behind it, against a storefront. Another passersby did his best to look away.

I did something I've never done before -- called 911. "This sounds like an assault is going on ... it's right down the block from the station ..."

I have to give it to the SFPD, even if they did race up in squad cars -- they responded fast. I heard one of them say ... "Oh, it's her." They were unafraid and approached casually, wearing their masks, not escalating the situation. The young cop detailed to deal with the caller (me) explained, "We know them." I hope so if these folks were regulars on that block.

Nothing terrible happened. I left. The cops left. The tent on the sidewalk was still there when I ran by 15 minutes later. Presumably it's occupants were still there.

Maybe an occasion of domestic violence was interrupted. Maybe I over-reacted. I'll be out again tomorrow; so will most of the others. The city doesn't seem to be getting anywhere with its proclaimed intent to house people in vacant hotels during this crisis. Get on it!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Evil words, evil acts

This past weekend was the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the most destructive act of domestic terrorism in our recent history. The implosion of the Federal Building by a fertilizer bomb took the lives of 168 very ordinary people -- many of them children in daycare -- and injured 680. Timothy McVeigh, a former U.S. Army soldier, was convicted of the crime and executed. He claimed this act of mass murder was in retribution for the deaths of Branch Davidian cultists in Waco, Texas.

There would have been a large public commemoration if it had not been for our present "shelter in place" condition. The site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is now a national monument, recalling this act of political violence. Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt offered these remarks about the atrocity which has lived on for many Oklahoma City residents ever since:

The Bombing was, ultimately, an act of extremist political violence made possible through dehumanization.  The journey to such an act begins with thoughts; those thoughts become words.   Like a virus, those words are heard by others and they pull out of the listener the thoughts and words that their better nature had previously rejected.  Soon, one carrier becomes many and an ecosystem is created, where ideas once considered absurd are treated with credibility. Blowing up an office building full of civilians and children requires someone to walk down that dark path.   It’s a path humanity has walked down too many times before.   It is a path of dehumanization.   And even though it ends with the most evil and horrific acts imaginable, that path is largely lined with the simplest gesture we have – words.  And if you are not hearing those echoes again in our current political discourse, I ask you to listen harder.

Evil acts like the one that occurred behind me depend on the triumph of dehumanization, the idea, first perpetuated through words, that you’re different than me.   That your motivations are not pure.   That you are my enemy, the enemy of my people, and that this struggle is so real that all tactics must be on the table.   To accept such dehumanization and to reject all the things that we share in common, the reality that we all love, we all have families, we’re all seeking virtually the same outcome, requires a remarkable amount of delusion.   But we as humans have proven ourselves time and time again capable of such delusion.   And we pay a terrible price, time and time again.

... Right now, I hear such words coming out of the mouths of some of the most prominent people in our country, and I see them echoed in daily life by those who know better.   We should know how this story ends, but let this place be a reminder.   We must have better conversations, we must reject dehumanization, we must love one another.

... To the people of Oklahoma City, I say, it is our unique obligation to carry these lessons forward.  We did not choose this obligation, it was given to us, but we must carry the load so that our people will not have died in vain.   We must speak with the authority of those who will always have a scar to which we can point, in the heart of our downtown.  We know better than most Americans what happens when empathy, love and understanding are lost.   We must be the first ones to always say, we’re all in this together.   Let’s listen to each other and let’s find common ground.

As is all too obvious, Donald Trump and his chorus of obedient GOPers play with inciting the sort of mad hatred that led to Tim McVeigh's crime. The killer virus, the crashed economy that has been sacrificed to limit the disease, the inequality that distributes the burden of the crisis so unfairly, a president desperate to pass off responsibility to someone else -- all these factors inflict pain and incite violence. Thanks to David Holt for reminding us that striking out leaves only dead children and more agony.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Protest in the time of COVID

I confess I'm more than a little irritated by way "mainstream" media is covering the right-wing protests demanding that governors "open up" their states to additional viral infection. Horror of horrors -- "conservative leaders and groups" have been "quietly working to nurture protests and apply political and legal pressure ..."

Well, yeah, there's an organized right wing in this country with rich sponsors and tentacles that run all the way through the White House. And yes, gun nuts, and domestic Nazis, and white supremacists, and deluded libertarians live within networks that can be mobilized to protest. That's how protests happen -- through organization. No protest springs full blown from an accidental coalescence of isolated individuals. Somebody organizes the event. Organized protest is not a conspiracy -- it is manifestation of collective organization, however much I may think a particular instance is bullshit.

These are bullshit of course. They have nothing like majority support. Most of us are still more scared of dying from a virus than not being able to get our hair cut. And, consequently, we think our governors who have closed things down are on the right track.
If the media want to cover organized protests, how about paying attention to protesters who have tried to comply with social distancing rules while making their point? There's been creativity among these activists. Here are folks in San Francisco demanding that vulnerable unhoused people receive the option of testing and be moved by city government into our empty hotels.
Brooke Anderson photo

Or there is this: Israeli citizens carefully keeping social distance while standing up against Premier Benjamin Netanyahu's attempt to cement impunity for his corruption. Organizers carefully marked out separated spaces for each participant. Now that's doing the work of responsible protest in this novel moment!
Haaretz photo by drone

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Death as a partisan issue

Charles Gaba is known as the indefatigable complier and analyst of statistical data about the country's health insurance status behind ACASighUp.

Yesterday, he looked at Red State/Blue State discrepancies in the diagnosed COVID-19 infections in states likely to be battlegrounds in the fall. He wondered: might Trump be correct that he benefits from treating the pandemic as an affliction of urban counties already hostile to him and his supporters and therefore undeserving of assistance? Can Trump win by backing demands from rural people to "open up" without regard for how many new disease cases he's risking?

Here's what the data said as of April 19:
Gaba concluded:

Democrats tend to live in densely-populated cities while Republicans tend to live in sparsely-populated rural areas, so it makes sense, but it's still disturbing. Will be morbidly interesting to see how/if these ratios change over the next few weeks... [with the rapid "re-opening" Trump seeks.]

My guess is that in the long run the urban counties will still have somewhat higher *cases* per capita, but the rural counties will have more *deaths* per capita due to a lack of hospital beds/etc, but who knows?

Via Twitter

No way to run a country!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Election forecast porn for people sheltering in place

Rachel Bitecofer is "insufferably" confident that, next November 3, Joe Biden will be elected president of these United States.

Who is Bitecofer? She's a brash, youngish, fat, white woman from a non-Ivy educational background who is gate-crashing the incumbent elections pundit class with her bold forecasts. The usual suspects look at her askance. She's not a proper political scientist from their perch. In the midterm election of 2018, she nailed Democratic House gains, predicting 40 pickups -- she was spot on. She didn't do so well on the Senate contests and will tell you what she got wrong. But she thinks she knows best.

When the Democratic primary effectively ended in March, she published her map of the 2020 Electoral College, with explanation:
Bitecofer's confidence in a Democratic victory is rooted in "forecasting work [that] predicts the two-party vote share for Democrats in each state on Election Day using fixed demographic data, and not polls." She also challenges the political science dictum that elections are all about the state of the economy.
A recession will certainly provide a potent test of the old “fundamentals” models that my research challenges. Make no mistake about it: If “the economy, stupid” still matters, it needs to matter here, and it should put the presidency completely out of grasp for Trump. ... In an America in which partisans are willing to inflict bodily harm on each other over politics, it seems unlikely that a mere recession, even an intense one, could move them off of their preferred presidential candidate in the ways it did prior to the polarized era, when the economic-fundamentals models, like the dinosaurs once did, ruled the Earth.
Nope -- she thinks the coming election will be all about the intense enthusiasms of the respective base voters of each party -- and "elections in the polarized era are won by out-voting the other party’s coalition." So can Democrats keep their coalition together under attack from the GOPer misinformation machine?
... underlying the cycle-specific trends are the realities of the long-term demographic, coalitional realignments of the two parties, where the Republican Party is becoming a rural-based party of whites, particularly working-class whites (but  more accurately, non-college-educated whites), and the Democratic Party is becoming an urban/suburban party, racially and ethnically diverse in a society that is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, and where college education is becoming a reliable predictor of Democratic candidate vote choice (so much so that I use it to predict Democratic candidate vote share in my modeling).

What this means, of course, is that every four years, fewer white, non-college-educated voters (especially those in rural areas) vote for Democrats. And this has profound impacts in the Midwest, because the traditional Democratic strongholds were often, in more rural, heavily unionized areas of these states. ... the prospects of Biden winning back white, working-class voters seem unlikely.

... the 2018 suburban transformation was largely powered by millennials and Gen Z voters, voters of color, and college-educated women, many of whom had been lazy about voting prior to the election of Donald Trump but now see their votes as America’s last line of defense. It was the surge to the polls by these voters, Democrats, but also independents, that my 2018 model anticipated and it’s these voters who power the 2020 version, too.

Of these “surge” voters, the most vulnerable to turnout failure are young voters and voters of color and the intersection of these two demographics: young voters of color. And for these voters, ideological representation matters. ... As the losing ideological faction from the primary, progressives are about to become the targets of a well-financed, sophisticated propaganda campaign hosted by Republicans attempt to fracture the “not-Trump coalition” and reduce the vote share needed for Trump to carry swing states to the pluralities he reached in the 2016 cycle.
Or, if we can manage to hang together, we needn't hang separately.

In the current party polarization, Bitecofer almost completely discounts "candidate quality" as a variable in determining outcomes. She considered Bernie Sanders a poor candidate because Democrats would have had such a hard time unifying behind him, but she also thought he had a clear shot at winning, because of base partisanship. She describes Joe Biden as a satisfactory specimen of a "generic Democrat," "digestible." (Okay, I rather like that.) Moreover, since her model is grounded in demographics, I imagine she doubts that a campaign constrained to online activity will make much difference.
Do I believe in Rachel Bitecofer's forecast? Not completely, but I enjoy her writing and much of her thinking.

This may have something to do with the fact that I came up in politics before we had much access to either micro-targeting data about voters or carefully focus-grouped and massaged messages.

It's not that hard to understand that the voters you want to turn out are among certain populations and constituencies and that you need to go prospecting among those people.

It's not that hard to find out how to talk with voters; listening and practice go a long way.

Happily, contemporary election work has become slightly less wasteful of human labor thanks to more precise targeting. But the fundamentals remain. These are what underlie Bitecofer's picture of elections.

Read her yourself, enjoy, and ponder.

And prepare to work to make something like her map the reality in November.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

I'm from the stay mad and get even school of political philosophy

I still think my Erudite Partner is full of it on this subject. But if the musings of a philosopher/mathematician-manqué on the orange sociopath's TV show interest you, read it all here.

Just keep in mind:

Trump will sacrifice Americans to coronavirus if it will save the market and his prospects for re-election. Which is to say that given the choice between solidarity and barbarism, Trump will choose barbarism. We’ll see, in November, if the rest of the country follows suit.

Jamelle Bouie

Seen on the street

A reminder to any who might be unwary. At least for the last 50 years, it's been a norm among white citizens and prosperous citizens to have low expectations of government, even if we're often pretty well served. So we shame each other to encourage conformity to norms. (Yes, many of us also rebel instinctively.) Even if we want government to do right by us, we also expect to take care of ourselves. Hence we have Gavin Newsom, Andrew Cuomo -- and this. The sociopath in the White House is from another planet altogether.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

For the record: Donald Trump is a weak leader; she's a truthful leader

Goodness knows, I harass my Congresswoman plenty, as all good citizens must if we are to keep these "Representatives" in line.

In return, she sends me an email newsletter. Or, sometimes, more than one. Databases aren't perfect.

I have to admit, I don't always open these missives. Does anyone? But this afternoon I received one that provides a succinct indictment of the orange-tinged sociopath infesting the Presidency. Since I think we must keep the litany of his murderous failures in front of our minds until we evict him, I offer here what Speaker Pelosi had to say:
In order to move forward, we must first understand the truth of what has put us in this position:
  • The truth is that Donald Trump dismantled the infrastructure handed to him which was meant to plan for and overcome a pandemic.
  • The truth is that Donald Trump was warned about this pandemic months in advance.
  • The truth is that Donald Trump told his most loyal followers that the pandemic would disappear, thus endangering lives and paving the way for economic disaster.
  • The truth is that we did not have proper testing available in March despite Trump repeatedly claiming that we did; and even now, we do not have adequate tests, masks, PPE, and necessary equipment, which creates unnecessary death and suffering.
  • The truth is because of an insufficient response to this health crisis, the strong economy handed to Donald Trump is now a disaster, causing the suffering of countless Americans and endangering lives.
  • The truth is a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility. A weak person blames others.
  • The truth is, from this moment on, Americans must ignore lies and start to listen to scientists and other respected professionals in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Once we all share the truth of what took place and what is currently happening, including in communities of color, we can work together to solve these problems.
She's right; he wants us to look away from the truth of his crimes. He wants us to forget. He wants to keep us fixated on his reality show. If we intend to throw this murderer out of the White House in November, we have to keep shouting the truth from the house tops, as Nancy does here.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday cat blogging

I'm still Walking San Francisco for my exercise, so I get to provide amusement and slight alarm to an occasional feline.  

Hard to tell whether they think we're behaving oddly.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Economic casualties

Erudite Partner is still teaching during this strange season of "sheltering in place." She's all too aware that the class she holds twice a week on Zoom consists of some of the people who are likely to be badly injured by the pandemic. That's not because they are at particular danger of getting ill; they are young and all securely housed. But they are college seniors, graduating into this horribly disrupted economy.

According to a study described in the Seattle Times, young people in that state, which is a bit ahead of the national curve, are already in big trouble.

The data show that a staggering 51% of young adults say they expect to need help paying the rent or mortgage in the next few months, compared with just 8% of seniors. And 53% of those 18 to 29 say they’ll need help paying for basic needs like food, medicine and utilities. Among those 65 and older, 16% say they will need help with this.

The survey also shows that those with a household income of less than $50,000 — a group which, naturally, includes a lot of young adults — are the most likely to need assistance.

And a greater share of people of color expect to need help compared with white Washingtonians, although the difference is not as dramatic as between young adults and seniors. Among white people, 29% said they would need help with rent or mortgage payments, compared with 37% of people of color. And 34% of white people said they would need assistance paying for basic needs compared with 39% of people of color.

There's no reason to expect the national picture of who is most immediately being hurt to be very different -- except that West Coast carnage in Black and Latinx communities seems generally a little less severe than what is happening around New York, and other older cities in the North like Chicago and Milwaukee. And there is also a terrible COVID cluster on Navajo lands. The COVID epidemic in the South is still under-reported, but if Louisiana offers any clue, as many as 70 percent of the victims may be Black.

We have recently seen what happens to an age cohort which comes of working age in times of economic trauma. People who graduated into the 2008 recession were slow to get good jobs, slow to be able to afford homes, slow to marry, and slow to become parents. They were still hurting when COVID knocked down their prospects again.

(I'm realizing that I'm a product an earlier round of this: my parents entered adulthood just as the Great Depression was taking hold and didn't see fit to have a child -- me -- until they had been married 15 years.)

But the new group are graduating into something much worse. And, because that's how the U.S. population shakes out, more of them will be coming from those disproportionately affected communities of color. Losing your mom to a virus doesn't help you launch.

Trump can bloviate all he likes about "opening up" the economy, but a nation terrified of gasping out its last breaths in an over-crowded ICU isn't going to throng to sports events and restaurants any time soon -- even if people could afford it. We've all got a world of hurt here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Trump wants to fire Africa's Dr. Fauci

The toddler in chief in the White House is looking around for someone to take responsibility for his cascading failures in responding to the virus. Two wasted months that are amplifying the strain on the health system and raising the death toll couldn't be his fault, don't we understand? This week he's moved on from blaming out-of-office Barack Obama to smearing the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization is part of the United Nations, founded after World War II to monitor and assist with the reality that infection doesn't respect national borders. The need for such an institution is obvious to anyone who is not a moron, as one of his early Secretaries of State concluded of the President. The U.S. contribution to the WHO was $553 million in 2019. That pittance is merely 4.5% of San Francisco's city budget, chump change in the U.S. toll of expenditures. Trump won't pay our share because he needs to throw a hissy fit.

Here's a profile of the doctor who is leading WHO's work against the pandemic in Africa by way of the South African Mail and Guardian. Like Dr. Fauci in the U.S., she's seen this horror show before.
(L Cipriani photo/WHO)
Every Thursday for the past month, journalists have dialled in from all over the continent to attend the virtual Covid-19 briefing by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The briefing is delivered from Brazzaville by Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, who calmly details the latest developments in Africa’s fight to contain the coronavirus

In doing so, switching effortlessly between English and French, Moeti has become the continent’s public face for this fight: a reassuring voice in the midst of our collective panic; an anchor in the gathering storm.

It helps that she has seen this all before. During her decades-long career in public health, Moeti has battled two other major epidemics. Her worst experience, she says — worse even than the current pandemic — was confronting HIV/Aids. When it first appeared, in the 1980s, there was no treatment. “It was the sense of helplessness, of not being able to do anything about all these people dying,” she told the Mail & Guardian in a telephonic interview.

Eventually, Moeti found a way to help. In the early 2000s, she led the WHO’s pioneering “3 by 5” initiative — an effort to get antiretrovirals to three million people in middle- and lower-income countries by 2005. Although it fell short of the target, reaching 1.3-million people, the initiative is “widely credited with jump-starting the global effort to widen treatment access to people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries”, according to the HIV/Aids-focused charity Avert.

Since being elected to her current position in 2015 — the first woman in the role — Moeti was also at the forefront of the WHO’s response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ...
Read it all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Getting by -- with help and gratitude

While Walking San Francisco on this lovely spring day, I spotted these sentiments today.

The neighborhood is among the most affluent and white crannies of the city.

These folks seem to understand how much they need their support workers.

Let's hope the tips are as appreciative as the signage.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Jill Karofsky defeats conservative state judge in Wisconsin

"Look, we shouldn’t have had the election on Tuesday," she said. "It was an untenable decision (on whether to vote), but the people of the state of Wisconsin rose up.
State Republicans thought they'd sewed this one up by forcing voters to either navigate a bureaucratic maze to receive an absentee ballot or venture into hours-long lines to cast an in-person vote at inadequate polling sites. But voters risked their lives to have their say. Notably, in Milwaukee where COVID is mowing down Black citizens, Karofsky ran up a 68-32 percent victory. Her urban and southern margins overwhelmed rural GOP voters. The map of the vote looks a lot like the party distribution of Wisconsin votes before former governor Scott Walker and his merry band of Republican voter suppressors took over the state after 2010. Let's just hope no brave voters pay for this one with their lives!

Next door in Michigan, mid-west voters show how to get it done

Katie Fahey thought there must be something wrong with her state's elections. No matter who won the overall state totals, Republicans always seemed to control the legislature. The 27 year old program coordinator for the Michigan Recycling Center realized the boundaries of their districts had been gerrymandered so the GOPers couldn't lose. So she wrote on Facebook: "I'd like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan. If you're interested in doing this as well, please let me know." Next thing she knew she was leading a citizen group that called itself Voters Not Politicians. After holding 33 local meetings to assess support, they took advantage of Michigan's initiative process to write a law requiring an independent redistricting commission to perform the line-drawing process. Political professionals scoffed. Four thousand volunteers collected over 425,000 (no paid petitioning here!) and put the measure on the ballot for 2018. After court challenges and a tough campaign, the measure prevailed in the November election and so far has withstood repeated Republican-inspired judicial review.

The documentary Slay the Dragon tells the story of Fahey, her associates, the Voters Not Politicians campaign -- and, moreover, how Republican gerrymandering has shaped politics in the upper midwest. Gerrymandering is both simple and brutal, enabling winners to design their own impregnable districts, and also technical, an exercise in big data manipulation and legal fancy footwork. This story makes the process and its grossly undemocratic implications broadly understandable. It offers a remarkable picture of what people feeling a moral imperative can do against powerful, fully funded opponents, including ones wearing judicial robes. One of the elections professionals interviewed here offered a summary which I think applies; when it comes to preserving democracy against greed and the power-hungry,
"We have to be our own saviors."
I've been following the Voters Not Politicians effort since December 2017, so there was little in this I didn't know. Yet I found the film intellectually satisfying and emotionally gripping, despite running over an hour and half which seem long for something so full of talking heads. This is a very professional project. It's available on YouTube, Amazon, and other streaming platforms. Highly recommended.

Democratic idealism tempered by experience

Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics is an extraordinarily graceful and interesting book by the sort of politician I usually would not usually pay much attention to. Michael Ignatieff recounts here his meteoric foray into Canadian Liberal Party politics and his flame out.

Born in Toronto in 1947 into a family of diplomats, he pursued a successful career as a cosmopolitan intellectual, studying and later teaching at Oxford, Cambridge, and eventually that other Cambridge, Harvard in Boston. His areas of study included nationalism and global human rights. Then, rather suddenly, in 2005 he was recruited by political consultants to Canada's Liberal Party to come home, run for election to Parliament, and eventually contest for party leadership. He won that leadership on a second try in 2008 and served as official Leader of the Opposition to the Conservative government of Stephen Harper (a Mitch McConnell-like figure) through 2011. In that year, the party he led lost not only an election to Harper, but also so many seats it was supplanted as the official Opposition by the New Democratic Party. Ignatieff left electoral politics and returned to academia -- and thought hard about what he had learned. This book is the result.

Just for context, if I were a Canadian, I probably wouldn't be a Liberal. I'm closer to the New Democrats, Canada's electorally significant democratic socialist alternative. The Liberals are Canada's version of moderate Democrats, with the very Canadian differences that they tend to a decent respect for human rights and absolute commitment to universal health care for all. Justin Trudeau, Canada's current Prime Minister, leads the Liberal Party. (These people aren't fully equivalent to U.S. Democratic mushy moderates. Trudeau's deputy is Chrystia Freeland, whose 2012 Plutocrats is still one of the most accessible descriptions anywhere of the inequalities of the global economic order.)

Fire and Ashes chronicles Michael Ignatieff's love for both democracy and the practice of politics. I'll let him tell it:

This book is in praise of politics and politicians. I came away from my experience with renewed respect for politicians as a breed and with reinvigorated faith in the good sense of citizens. ... There is so much wrong with democratic politics today ... that it is easy to forget what is right about the democratic ideal: the faith, constantly tested, that ordinary men and women can rightly choose those who govern in their name, and that those they choose can govern with justice and compassion. The challenge of writing about democratic politics is to be unsparing about its reality without abandoning its ideals....

As a practitioner of some of electioneering's dark arts myself, I find much of what he learned rings true.

He discovered early on that to impress constituents he had to be able to answer why he was running with something bigger than the true reasons: ambition and curiosity. Though seeming thoroughly decent, it's not clear he ever found his passionate goal. Other politicians sussed this weakness out; they successfully tagged him as an intellectual dilettante. As a result, he never quite achieved what he calls "standing" or what I'd call "legitimacy" with the people who might have voted for him.

But oh, the truths he saw:
  • Voters want to trust that they are heard.

    ... I would rate listening, being able to deeply listen to your fellow citizens, as the most underrated skill in politics. For what people want in a politician, what they have a right to demand, is to be listened to. Often, listening is all you can do.

  • You learn to be careful what you say.

    ... politics is a game with words, but it isn't Scrabble. No one who enters the political arena for the first time is ever prepared for its adversarial quality. Every word you utter becomes an opportunity for your opponents to counter attack. Inevitably you take it personally, and that is your first mistake. You have to learn what the lifers, wise with years of experience, have long since understood: it's never personal; it's strictly business. ...In politics, there is no such thing as good or bad faith.

  • It is essential to be genuinely interested in people and their lives. His argument almost makes that strange exercise that is the Iowa presidential primary process seem laudable.

    What a good politician comes to know about a country can't be found in a briefing book. What he knows is the way the people shape place and place shapes the people. Few forms of political expertise matter so much as local knowledge: the details of the local political lore, the names of the dignitaries and power brokers, -- mayors, high school coaches, police chiefs, major employers -- who must always be named from the platform. Great politicians have to be masters of the local. ...

    As long as democracy demands this local knowledge of a politician, as long as it makes this the criterion of credibility and trust, the country should be all right. As soon as democracy loses its connection to place, as soon as the location of politics is no longer the union hall, the living room, the restaurant and the local bar and becomes only the television screen and the website, we'll be in trouble. We'll be entirely in the hands of image-makers and spin doctors and the fantasies they purvey. Politics will be a spectacle dictated from the metropolis, not a reality lived in small towns and remote communities that are as much part of the country as the big cities. ...

  • Figuring out how to appeal to voters taught him how ordinary, apolitical citizens regard politics. From my political work, I completely endorse what he explains:

    ... a good politician has to understand... has to appreciate that outside the halls of Congress or Parliament, most people regard the spectacle of political combat with a mixture of disgust and alarm, fading quickly to indifference. Working with this permanent state of alienation is an important part of the politician's art. Politicians have to negotiate trust agains the back drop of permanent dislike of their own profession. When you represent the people, you actually spend most of your time trying to overcome their suspicion that you have left them behind to join a brutal game that will do them no good.

  • Yet for all the faults of our democratic political system, there's a streak of idealism that is what moves citizen participation in elections. Progressive politicians who succeed tap into this. Consultants who reduce campaigns to targeted marketing miss something essential. I have experienced that this is true making hundreds of "get out and vote" pitches to reluctant participants. Sometimes they don't want to vote because they sense voting matters too much to do lightly. Getting to the act feels a leap ...

    ... voters attach a meaning to voting that they do not give to buying a skirt or a pair of pants. To vote is to express your belonging to a political community, to say what you believe in and to join the collective act of choosing a country's direction. Voting is an expression of symbolic allegiance more than an instrumental expression of interests. Most voters know that their individual vote will not make much difference to the outcome, but they still come out to vote because they believe it matters to take part in democracy.

  • Ignatieff is reflective about political ethics.

    Many of the voters I met, especially young ones, believed that politics ought to be true to the ethic of ultimate ends. I came to believe that my own conscience mattered, but party unity mattered more if we were to get power. Without power, we could do nothing. But there was a clear limit to what power could demand of you. You couldn't afford to forget what the truth actually was, and if you did, you risked becoming a hack.

    I learned that you can't take refuge in moral purity if you want to achieve anything, but equally, if you sacrifice all principle, you lose the reason you went into politics in the first place. ...

    ... I would counsel you to think of politics as a calling. The term is usually reserved for priests, nuns, and mystics, but there is something appealing about using it for work as sinful and worldly as politics. It captures precisely what is so hard: to be worldly and sinful and yet faithful and fearless at the same time.

    You put your own immodest ambitions in the service of others. You hope that you ambitions will be redeemed by the good that you do. In the process, you get your hands dirty for the sake of ends that are supposed to be clean. You use human vices -- cunning and ruthlessness -- in the service of the virtues -- justice and decency.

When our democracy faces a viral emergency compounded and amplified by an elected leader who is intellectually, emotionally, and morally incapable of leadership, looking back to first principles may seem a luxury. But in such a time, perhaps decent, intelligent reflection is just what we need.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Blog holiday

All creation is present on this Mexican-origin crucifix. All creation lives in the tortured, yet still living, breath of the Creator.

Back on Monday after Easter.

Friday cat blogging

Morty found a sunbeam -- and a lap to go with it. He is not as much of a help as he seems to assume.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

A democratic reform whose time has come ...

On voting by mail, Donald Trump is bucking not only public health, but also public opinion. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll:

Most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, want the government to require mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 presidential election if the coronavirus outbreak still threatens the public this autumn ... the poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday found that 72% of all U.S. adults, including 79% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans, supported a requirement for mail-in ballots as a way to protect voters ...

People know that putting voters and poll workers in danger as happened in Wisconsin on Tuesday is just wrong.

Voting by mail is not some novelty. You know who has been voting by mail decades? The far flung troops of the U.S. military. We put these people all over the world, touting their service to their country. But we don't take away their right to cast a ballot. The image is from a Florida campaign to turn out Air Force voters in 2016.

Managing massive elections that include voting by mail is not easy. State and local authorities need to get to work planning now; state legislatures need to remove any procedural requirements that would get in the way; the federal government needs to include funding in the next stimulus bill to help localities get this done for the sake of our health and our democracy.

Sixteen states currently actively discourage absentee voting by requiring voters to certify to an "excuse" in any election when they wish vote by mail. The procedure to get a ballot is often difficult and requires multiple steps by the voter -- getting an application, returning the application by a set date to the election office, receiving a ballot, returning the ballot by mail so it arrives by election day -- and usually paying for postage.

Though most of these 16 states are in the South and Republican controlled, several are Democratic controlled at the state level and should be pushed to change their procedures in this crisis. There are some winnable fights among these: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in response to his state's emergency, has in recent days begun the process of getting rid of New York's "absentee excuse" requirement for voting by mail. This is the minimum that has to happen everywhere before November.

The All On The Line campaign (this is the residue of Organizing for Obama/America) is leading a national campaign to make voting easier. Many Indivisible groups have local voting rights campaigns. Wherever we are, there's work to do to make voting easier now ...

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Bernie is out!

Much of San Francisco has been Bernie country. I've collected dozens of snaps of supporter images over the years. This is my favorite. Bernie expanded the limits of the thinkable. Full speed ahead.

This is my other favorite. Not me. Us. is so right for this time and always.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

When to cast your vote risks death

From the frontlines, Molly McGrath, a voting rights attorney who organizes to let people vote.

The voting tragedy here in Wisconsin is unjust, but my anger has turned into profound sadness that our institutions have failed us so spectacularly. More than ever, all we can do is keep fighting for voters. These are not hypotheticals. These are voters with rights. Here's a few:

An 87-year-old WWII vet named Charles. He tried to request an absentee ballot, but was not able to upload his photo ID, as required by Wisconsin law. He never received his ballot. With no choice, he now plans to vote in person Tuesday.

Just 57% of absentee ballots requested by voters have returned to clerks. Many voters have not even received theirs yet, like my brother and his wife, both under 50. I made them promise not to risk their health and vote in person, even if they don’t get their ballots tomorrow.

Herb, a man who lives alone, has no one to sign as a witness on his absentee ballot. He doesn’t want to leave his house and has no one coming over. In Dane County alone, 70 volunteers w/@WiscVoterID went to homes to try to be witnesses--in a safe way--over the last weeks. Unreal.

I have multiple messages from folks under 30 who planned to be poll workers, but are so afraid of getting sick that they are terrified tonight. But they feel like they especially need to show up, to replace older poll workers who may also be assigned to their polling location.

This fight for voting rights won’t be easy. But we can’t give up. If you have an absentee ballot, get it in Tuesday. If you don’t, and you are in WI or some place else, mourn this injustice, then prepare to fight. Our democracy needs you.

So many are so brave.

Supply chain interrupted

Washington Post senior editor Marc Fisher pursued the minor sub-theme of this moment: "What's with the toilet paper panic?" He asked grocery clerks for their opinions; who would have a better window on what's driving us? At least one of the responses was beyond charming.

As a checkout guy at a supermarket in Asheville, N.C., [David Cohen] saw people buying absurd amounts of toilet paper, but he also saw people reach the cashier’s counter and decide suddenly to consider those who have less.

“Some people said, ‘Wait, I’m going to put these rolls back on the shelf so somebody else can get some,’” said Cohen, who was happy to wait while his customers made a quick return visit to Aisle 14.

The entire article is timely relief from the all too serious horrors around us.