Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Falling down -- and getting up again

Trust Erudite Partner to find the material meaning behind a scary label. In her latest opus for Tom Dispatch, she asks "Can making Black Lives Matter rescue a failing state?"

Sure as can be, rescue by all of us together is needed as the many plagues of the omni-crisis -- white supremacy, Trump and his GOPers, the coronavirus, and a crashed economy -- grind on. Against every possible obstacle for 400 years, Black citizens have dreamed and enfleshed visions of justice and freedom. What a time!

George Floyd Intersection of Hope

A friend who lives in Minneapolis passed along that one of her friends had taken on supporting the community living and active around the location where George Floyd was killed. That activist, Marie Claire, explains:

Our primary focus is to help the people lovingly preserving George Floyd’s memorial, and make it a safe and comfortable space to visit. ... The process of helping maintain the Memorial has been organic. There has been no planning, and as of now we are only getting by with volunteer help and limited financial support from the community.

I grew up in the neighborhood where George Floyd was killed. As a college student and someone who is biracial, I experience firsthand the unfortunate obstacles of skin color. I am the proud daughter of an interracial marriage, and I can't imagine what someone with a darker complexion endures, not to mention a black man in America.

If you have visited the memorial of George Floyd, you have probably seen a number of groups distributing food, water, and masks for those who need it. We are collecting donations to ensure the sustainability of the memorial and support those actively working to do so.

We are in this together! #BLM #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd

Please continue to share with your friends and family!

We are not done yet, and we won't stop until there is justice.

If anyone you know has extra masks, we could use them at the entry point sanitation stations.

This is not some established nonprofit organization taking up a popular cause. It's just people doing their best to honor their local martyr for justice. They depend on a small GoFundMe. If you can, you know what to do ...

Monday, June 29, 2020

COVID-19: what don't we know yet about recovering

Health policy wonk Andy Slavitt warned about a coming spike in COVID cases where states "opened" too soon. The virus doesn't care about governors' political need to placate Donald Trump and his combative followers; it simply marches on through new, previously uninfected, hosts wherever it can find them. Unhappily, at the moment, that's Florida, Texas, and Arizona, with the rest of the south and southwest apparently on the same path.

Now Slavitt is warning about future dangers. Most people who catch COVID don't die; they "recover." But because the disease is new to humans, we don't know what "recover" means. Slavitt wants our medical scientists to get ahead of the game, to study outcomes so doctors know what to expect.

It is time we consider setting up COVID-19 long term recovery centers so patients with ongoing mysterious symptoms can be treated and studied.

The symptoms that emerge post-hospitalization or among many younger people with initial light symptoms is a scary and not understood part of the disease.

More people will survive COVID but like past viruses like SARS-Cov-1 and AIDS, surviving doesn’t mean a symptom free life.

We can eventually beat and treat many diseases but our scientists need data and patients require support.

One out of 1000 Americans at this point have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Neurological, respiratory, immune system, and clotting and damage to the kidney, pancreas and lungs have all been experienced.

As the virus spreads more people will become ill and more will survive. We should take advantage of the time to increase our understanding.

Many more people will get COVID and not require hospitalization — by the end of the Summer, it could total 15% of the population.

Some number of these people, even if they didn’t experience symptoms, will find the virus has stayed in their system causing new or nagging sensations. With SARS-Cov-1, chronic fatigue & mental health disorders are still a problem with 40% of people who have recovered.

The answer to this phenomenon begins with more widespread testing still. And in particular in hard hit communities.

Special clinics and ongoing treatment should be set up.

Some COVID recoverees report being stigmatized already as we often do with things we don’t understand. People treat them as if they’re infectious. And suggest the only thing that matters is if people die or not. We can do better than that.

Normally the CDC would be enlightening us here. I hope they step up but since the pandemic has begun, leadership has had to come from elsewhere in the country. And it should again.

That is, we need more and better data collection and smart observation from a scientific community that is both over-burdened and sometimes prone to squabbling over credit for new insights. Only coherent political leadership could avert the worse of this. And we know we're not going to get it in this country.

This was preventable.

Tile mural detail above by Juana Alicia outside the Ambulatory Care Center, UCSF Medical Center.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Time's up for California's affirmative action ban

California's Prop. 209 will be on the ballot again this fall -- this time as Proposition 16. At long last, voters will be asked to repeal a measure approved a generation ago amid an eruption of white people's panic about the state's growing racial and cultural diversity. Under this legal provision, the state is forbidden to take into account race and gender in our civic life.

The lead legislative sponsor of the measure, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego, explains how, in a spasm of fear, we hogtied racial and gender justice.
Enacted in 1996, Proposition 209 — which was deceptively marketed to voters as a civil rights initiative — removed essential tools to fight discrimination against women and people of color. Far from leveling the playing field, it set up obstacles to success for millions. In the six years that followed Proposition 209’s passage, contract awards to women business enterprises dropped significantly from 6.7% to 3.8%. In the following two decades, California’s minority and women business enterprises lost the potential equivalent of $1 billion annually in public contracts.

Since Proposition 209’s passage, California has become one of only eight states that do not allow race or gender to be among the many factors considered in hiring, allotting state contracts or accepting students into the state’s public colleges and universities.
Despite our position as a global leader, this law has allowed discriminatory hiring and contracting processes to flourish in California. The result is that the number of women and Latinos employed by the state of California has decreased significantly relative to population growth.

In 1994, Latinos were admitted to the UCs above the average rate, and African-Americans at 6 points below average; in 2019, they were admitted at 6 points and 16 points below average, respectively. Asian American admission rates went down, and have not returned to previous levels, especially at the most selective campus in the UC system. For example, before Proposition 209 in 1996, the Asian American admissions rate at UC Berkeley was 32%. Two years later, it was 30%. Currently, it is 21%.
We can climb out of this hole we dug for ourselves by passing Weber's constitutional amendment.

It's hard for anyone under 45 to imagine, but not so long ago, California was in many ways the most Trumpian place in the country outside the old South. The older white electorate was simply scared stupid of the emerging plurality of people of color -- Black, Latinx, and of various Asian origins. Republican politicians spent the decade of the 1990s offering this frightened electorate tasty meals of bigoted fodder that promised the impossible -- to interrupt and impede demographic reality.

So, the state voted in Prop. 187 that California rejected immigrants and that undocumented people should have no access to state funded education or health care. (Prop. 187's hate agenda was never fully implemented because of court challenges; Trump has come far closer than 1990s California ever did.) Later California outlawed bilingual education (repealed 2017) and multiple measures aiming to jail Black and Latin offenders and throw away the keys (chipped away at via Prop. 36 in 2012 and Prop. 47 in 2014.) Prop. 209's ban on affirmative action is the only pillar of that nasty decade of white backlash initiatives still standing.

Young Californians know that Prop. 209 has got to go. Sally Chen grew up in San Francisco as the daughter of working class Chinese immigrants. She wanted to write a college essay that built on what her life experiences had taught her -- but was advised she couldn't if she was applying to the California university system. Since she was a top student, she ended up at Harvard where courts have agreed that the private university can look at life experiences involving race, ethnicity and gender as part of the admission process. But what about all the other students who are not quite such stars? She remains horrified by the narrow lens California sought to force her into:
My race is an essential part of who I am – both in my pride as a Chinese American and in the very real challenges my family and I have faced because of it. 
Varsha Sarveshwar is the president of the University of California Student Association. She graduated this year from UC Berkeley and she believes voting for ACA 5 in November will be acting for equal opportunity for all:
Simply put, we can no longer pretend that race does not exist or that it doesn’t matter.

Students are far more complex than race alone, but race is undeniably an important part of who we are. This shapes the rich perspectives and experiences we bring to an academic environment.

Today, colleges can consider whether you’re from the suburbs, a city or a rural area. They can consider what high school you went to. They can consider your family’s economic background. They can look at virtually everything about you – but not race. It makes no sense – and is unfair – that schools can’t consider something that is so core to our lived experience.
Assemblywoman Weber took her repeal initiative to the legislature by speaking to the moment we're in:
"I'm so grateful I didn't have to convince you that racism is real, because George Floyd did that," said ACA 5's author...
California can affirm that race matters in November. Let's get on with it.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

It is time for reparations

Nikole Hannah-Jones lays out what is owed. What follows is an abbreviated excerpt; do read it all.

Wealth begets wealth, and white Americans have had centuries of government assistance to accumulate wealth, while the government has for the vast history of this country worked against black Americans doing the same.

... Wealth, not income, is the means to security in America. Wealth — assets and investments minus debt — is what enables you to buy homes in safer neighborhoods with better amenities and better-funded schools. It is what enables you to send your children to college without saddling them with tens of thousands of dollars of debt and what provides you money to put a down payment on a house. It is what prevents family emergencies or unexpected job losses from turning into catastrophes that leave you homeless and destitute. It is what ensures what every parent wants — that your children will have fewer struggles than you did. Wealth is security and peace of mind. It’s not incidental that wealthier people are healthier and live longer. Wealth is, as a recent Yale study states, “the most consequential index of economic well-being” for most Americans. But wealth is not something people create solely by themselves; it is accumulated across generations.

... Brown v. Board of Education did not end segregated and unequal schools; it just ended segregation in the law. It took court orders and, at times, federal troops to see any real integration. Nevertheless, more than six decades after the nation’s highest court proclaimed school segregation unconstitutional, black children remain as segregated from white kids as they were in the early 1970s. There has never been a point in American history where even half the black children in this country have attended a majority-white school.

... The Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination in housing, but it did not reset real estate values so that homes in redlined black neighborhoods whose prices were artificially deflated would be valued the same as identical homes in white neighborhoods, which had been artificially inflated. It did not provide restitution for generations of black homeowners forced into predatory loans because they had been locked out of the prime credit market. It did not repay every black soldier who returned from World War II to find that he could not use his G.I. Bill to buy a home for his family in any of the new whites-only suburbs subsidized by the same government he fought for. It did not break up the still-entrenched housing segregation that took decades of government and private policy to create. Lay those redlining maps over almost any city in America with a significant black population, and you will see that the government-sanctioned segregation patterns remain stubbornly intact and that those same communities bore the brunt of the predatory lending and foreclosure crisis of the late 2000s that stole years of black homeownership and wealth gains.

... Making employment discrimination illegal did not come with a check for black Americans to compensate for all the high-paying jobs they were legally barred from, for the promotions they never got solely because of their race, for the income and opportunities lost to the centuries of discrimination. Nor did these laws end ongoing discrimination any more than speed limits without enforcement stop people from driving too fast. These laws opened up opportunities for limited numbers of black Americans while largely leaving centuries of meticulously orchestrated inequities soundly in place, but now with the sheen of colorblind magnanimity.

With Covid-19, black Americans face a financial catastrophe unlike any in nearly a century. Black Americans had already lost the largest share of their wealth of all racial groups as a result of the last recession and have struggled the most to recover. They are the only racial group whose household median income is less than it was in 2000. Today already more than half of black adults are out of work. Black businesses are withering. Their owners were almost completely shut out of the federal paycheck-protection program — just 12 percent of black and Latino business owners who applied for the small-business loans received the full amounts they requested, according to a Global Strategy Group survey last month. Nearly half the respondents said they would most likely shutter permanently within six months. Black children are expected to lose 10 months’ worth of academic gains because of school closures, more than any other group, and yet they attend the schools with the least resources already, schools that will have even fewer resources as states slash spending to make up for budget shortfalls. One in five black homeowners and one in four renters have missed at least one home payment since the shutdowns began — the highest of all racial groups.

Race-neutral policies simply will not address the depth of disadvantage faced by people this country once believed were chattel. Financial restitution cannot end racism, of course, but it can certainly mitigate racism’s most devastating effects. If we do nothing, black Americans may never recover from this pandemic, and they will certainly never know the equality the nation has promised.

So we are left with a choice. Will this moment only feel different? Or will it actually be different?

... It is time for this country to pay its debt. It is time for reparations.

And when our political leaders dither and plead poverty, it's up to all of us to remind them they are lying. What's the wealth of a nation for but to assure the well-being of its people? There's only one morally acceptable answer -- and that's the meaning of the cry that Black Lives Matter.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Old voters swing toward the future

I sure didn't want the Democratic nominee to be an old white guy. (That went for either of the possibles.) If I had my druthers, we'd have someone who looked more like our future than our past. But here we are. Do let's think about old people in our politics.

E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post pundit who is an old white guy himself, pointed out in one of this pandemic year's remote addresses to graduating students that old people have disproportionate political influence. All of us should get more out of government, but we, the old, have a firm grip on what there is.

Our public policies tilt toward the economic interests of older Americans. This imbalance must be righted lest an entire generation of Americans — your generation — be weighed down for the rest of its working life by the aftereffects of this moment.

Older people do well in the policy wars partly because they vote in large numbers (another incentive for young people to turn out). Our social insurance programs for older people, principally Medicare and Social Security, are not matched by similarly comprehensive protections for the middle-aged and the young. Also: Older people are wealthier, and our political system leans hard toward the haves over the have-nots.

He's telling the younger folks to get in there and push for what ought to theirs.

It's hard to overestimate how much influence older people have on voting outcomes in this country. Timothy Noah's statistics about who does the democracy thing are stark.

America’s upper governmental reaches are remarkably old—older, in fact than the much-mocked Soviet Politburo at the time of Leonid Brezhnev’s death, when its median age was a comparatively sprightly 71. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the aging of the Baby Boom and great health strides in recent decades for the over-70 set.

But the real determining factor, I think, is that the voting population is very, very old. In 2016, voters age 65 and older represented only 15 percent of the electorate but accounted for nearly 30 percent of all ballots cast, thanks to their 71 percent turnout. In 2020, this cohort will represent nearly one-quarter of the electorate—and consequently could account for one-third or more of all ballots.

The extraordinary influence of old people on election outcomes is not going to change unless participation from younger people increases. That's just a fact.

So let's be grateful that the electoral preferences of old white people seem to be changing. Current polling says we're done with Donald Trump. We don't want to be left to die off from a virus which he's fumbling to ignore. As of now, Joe Biden ahead by 6 points among old people of all races. By contrast, Hillary Clinton lost this age group by 13 percentage points in 2016.

And our numbers among the voters mean this can sink Trump; we'll be "at least a quarter of voters in 2020." We were slow to get it, but we're moving.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Disappearing histories

So New York City has decided it's time to hide away this:
About time! This horror was erected in 1940.

Now can San Francisco get rid of this?
The statue at Dolores and Market Streets commemorates the U.S. imperial adventures in Cuba and the Philippines. Under the rearing horse's hooves there lies a blond fallen hero. He's not very representative of that war. Though the U.S. occupiers did suffer casualties, as has routinely been the case in our imperial wars, the local population bore the brunt:

The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.

So wrote the U.S. government's Office of the Historian. This website comes with a note:

“Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations” has been retired and is no longer maintained.

An expanded note, defensive in tone, takes pains to explain that a review of the Office of the Historian was underway in 2016. But apparently the decision to retire this material was part of the Trump administration's cuts to the State Department. I suspect we have here historical revisionism to project a story more in tune with "Making America Great Again."

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Let's honor this improbable Senator

Way back in the fall of 2017, when it was easy to believe our fellow citizens were hopelessly benighted dupes of racist Trumpian populism, the victorious Senate campaign of Doug Jones was a reminder that all was not lost. Behind a tidal wave of Black women's energy, the good people of Alabama voted to replace their neo-Confederate Senator Jeff Sessions, not with a crazy child molester, but this unprepossessing former U.S. attorney of moderate Democratic sentiments. To those of us in despair over Trump, it was the first breakthrough.

He's up for re-election this year against either the same Sessions or a Trumpian Auburn University football coach, Tommy Tuberville, depending on who wins the GOP primary. Nobody much expects Jones to have a chance. Trump is up 53-39 over Biden in Alabama -- less of a margin than in 2016, but daunting.

But here's Jones standing up for racial decency in his mild way. Responding to George Floyd's murder, he says "Across Alabama, folks are struggling with this ... The road to racial justice has taken far too long.”

Jones has some credibility: what fame he had before the Senate campaign was as the prosecutor of two Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four African-American girls. He also indicted Eric Rudolph, the domestic terrorist who bombed abortion clinics and the Atlanta Olympics.

I suspect the target of this ad is not the good citizens of Alabama, but me and people like me. Jones needs national support if he's to have a campaign at all. But I'll take this from him; he deserves.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Pandemic campaigning and democratic breakthroughs

A few months ago, way back when we didn't know who would emerge from the Democratic presidential primary, the old guard of the Democratic Party consultant class were downright panicked that our side had fallen far behind the GOP campaign online. This alarm only deepened when the winner was an "analog candidate in a digital world." And then came the pandemic, and Joe Biden was confined to his basement, and we all found ourselves living on Zoom.

It was actually an episode of the podcast Campaign HQ from one of those consultant heavyweights, David Plouffe, that gave me an inkling that there was another possible path for the coming election season. Pete Buttigieg’s online engagement director told of successfully turning supporters loose in new media they understood better than the campaign to sell the unheralded newcomer. Pete had limits as a candidate, but the potential was huge.

And now we celebrate TikTok activists and K-pop kids who apparently successfully trolled the Trump campaign ticket system and lured the GOPers into a cardinal political campaign sin: overpredicting crowd size. Successful campaigns underpredict and then crow about overflow. Tulsa made Trump look like a deflated balloon. Good going, kids and friends!

We have now seen online activism, launched from no closer than the sympathetic outskirts of a regular campaign, create both a material and media impact. This is something new and will change the coming campaign season.

Ever since politics evolved for its permanent practitioners into a profession dealing in data and sociological observation as much or more than ideology (I make this the 1970s), the vital center of campaigns has been "message discipline." Polls and focus groups study the voters to determine what they want to hear and what they will listen to and candidates and their campaigns rigidly adhere to "the message." This is not always pernicious; a lot of good people and causes have won political office in this system. It was however often inflexible and unwelcoming to everyday concerned citizens who had to be disciplined to get with the program. And consultants profited because they were the essential sources of messages and the approved ads.

Citizen activist politics was due for a breakout from message machine politics. The strange new technological environment of a pandemic election is likely to give space to many novelties and some new people. Black Lives Matter was never on Democratic messaging train; BLM has its own 2020 policy program. The streets have put this on the national agenda. Digital natives have shown they can intervene in politics and will. Yes, as Charlie Warzel insists, there's a lot of alienation in that quarter -- but what is democratic (small "d") politics for, if not to give voice to real pain as well as promise?

We do need to elect a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate and as many smart, honest pols as we can find at every level this fall. The energy must begin to be translated into actualities. That will involve figuring out how to do the necessary mechanics -- registration, education in new voting systems where needed, encouragement of indifferent and hesitant citizens to actually vote, all the usual -- in a pandemic environment. I have no doubt we'll do what needs to be done. We have to.

Monday, June 22, 2020

From my clutter: virus vexations

Sunday morning, after services on Zoom, the attending members of our church community discussed what the prospects are for gathering in the flesh in the season of the coronavirus. Whatever else may develop, we agreed it would be crazy to pretend the pandemic was over. The virus still lurks among us.

It feels time to unload some of the oddments I've collected from COVID journalism. This thing is a mystery.

Scientists trying to suss the coronavirus out are often reduced to admitting they can't identify patterns, though they can document different impacts.

If you are in Belgium and have COVID-19, your odds are not good: About one in six Belgians who have contracted the disease have died. If you are in Rwanda, a former Belgian colony with a per capita GDP about 1/60th of Belgium’s, your odds are superb. Rwanda has reported 339 cases, and none has even required admission to an ICU. Rwandans are younger than Belgians, but zero is a very small number.

In Switzerland, a country with excellent universal health care, a French-speaking Swiss with COVID-19 is 1.6 times more likely to die than a German-speaking Swiss. An Italian-speaking Swiss is 2.4 times more likely to die than a German speaker. The magnitude of these disparities is comparable to the magnitude of the disparities among white, Latino, and black people in the United States—even though there is no modern history of enslavement and genocide of Switzerland’s Italian-speaking population. (Ticino, the center of Italian-speaking Switzerland, ranks seventh out of 26 cantons in per capita GDP.) You might be tempted to attribute the disparity to the Italian speakers’ connections with the death zone of northern Italy. That could account for the difference in the incidence of the disease—but why the difference in the likelihood that you’ll die, if you already have it?

Graeme Wood, The Atlantic, May 29, 2020

What is documented in San Francisco is that the disease is tearing through Latinx and Black communities and disproportionately killing infected people of various Asian origins, while not being nearly so deadly to white residents.

When our medical system tries to understand the discrepancies, further conundrums arise. The focus of study must look away from individuals to social forces, according to Statnews.

“Policymakers’ natural instinct is to think this correlation is because of income disparities, or having health insurance, or diabetes, obesity rates, smoking rates, or even use of public transit,” [M.I.T. economist Chris] Knittel said. “It’s not. We controlled for all of those. The reason why [Black people] face higher death rates is not because they have higher rates of uninsured, poverty, diabetes, or these other factors.”

The Sutter study, too, adjusted for age, sex, comorbidities, and income; the higher hospitalization rate for Black patients wasn’t explained by any of those.

That leaves other factors. “If I were a policymaker,” Knittel said, “I’d be looking at things like the systemic racism that affects the quality of insurance African Americans have and the quality of the health care they receive.”

The county-by-county analysis of Covid-19 death rates in the U.S. comes as more and more studies shift from the initial focus on individual-level factors that seem to increase people’s risk of dying to population-level ones, too, said experts in public health, demographics, and infectious disease.

In some places, the pandemic has enabled communal violence. Indian novelist, essayist, and activist Arundhati Roy charges that the behavior of her Hindu nationalist government has been genocidal.

... the language being used by the mainstream media against Muslims was designed to dehumanise them. To paint an entire community as “corona jihadis” during this pandemic, when there is a pre-existing atmosphere of violence against Muslims is to create a genocidal climate. 

... It was terrifyingly similar to how, during the rise of the Third Reich, Nazis began accusing Jews of being spreaders of disease, carriers of typhus. And the tone of the media – particularly channels like Zee TV and Republic TV began to sound like Radio Rwanda. These channels are specially rewarded by the [President Nahrendra] Modi coterie, granted exclusive interviews by him and his terrifying home minister. The horror show is ongoing. ...

Meanwhile, in its own casually imperial way, the U.S. government has been contributing to global confusion and likely unnecessary deaths.

US-funded website spreading COVID misinformation in Armenia
Medmedia.am was established with money from the Democracy Commission Small Grants programme, awarded to the NGO by the US embassy in Armenia last year. These grants, intended to “promote democracy”, are worth up to $50,000 a year.

In May, the site’s most-read page called on Armenians to “refuse all potential [COVID-19] vaccination programmes”. It has had 131,000 views and 28,000 social media likes (big numbers in a country with a population of less than 3 million).

The second most popular piece claimed, incorrectly, that a morgue offered 100,000 AMD ($205) to a dead patient’s relatives to sign a document saying the death was caused by COVID-19. Other recent pieces have described COVID-19 as a “fake pandemic”.

Open Democracy, May 28, 2020

After this expose was published, the funding was cancelled. Thank you, alert reporters!

Then there's the mask debate. Scientific American calls out machismo run amuck.

Leaders who are more concerned with preserving a macho public image put our lives at risk as they prove their manhood by showing resistance to experts’ opinions, hypersensitivity to criticism and constant feuding with anyone who seems to disagree with them.

Yes, they call out Trump. After all, they speak science.

Our church is not the only one struggling with how we should go forward in this time. An epidemiologist who has studied airborne transmission of the virus and serves on his church's safety committee urges caution. Scholars of religion are, as is their wont, collecting data on what religious institutions are actually doing in the time of the pandemic. John Turner reports:

As far as I can discern, the vast majority of American congregations have responded in responsible ways and demonstrated a concern for public health. Many congregations, moreover, have continued on with their efforts to feed the hungry and to assist the needy.

He's looking for further contributions for this study which can be uploaded at Pandemic Religion.

Meanwhile, our little church community decided for the moment that we're all in this together, even if we're distancing. We don't want to create risk by "opening" while the danger of infection continues, nor to divide ourselves by various partial expedients. Instead, we want to see if we can equip our people who might need cell phones so they can join us via Zoom. Solidarity trumps the desire to be in the same space, at least for now, and for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father's Day 2020

The label on the snapshot said 1938, nine years before I was born. The beach was probably on Cape Cod, though it could also have been somewhere on the shore of Lake Ontario. The mustache was an uncommon detail; I remember him growing one on brief occasions in my childhood. The sailor hat was his concession to his early developing bald spot. The pipe was his signal of adulthood, constantly fingered, usually unlit.

Like so many young people today, he came into adult life (in the early 1930s) just as his country fell into Depression. In that decade, he never found a coherent career path, bouncing from odd job to job. He didn't really get settled into stable employment for another 15 years. I'm sure that grated on him: he believed his male purpose was to provide.

But here there's a youthful hopefulness in his gaze. He would have been 33. I never knew him looking much like that. By the time I came along, there'd been a terrible war; he was too old to be drafted into World War II, so worked at accounting in a wartime aircraft factory. When I knew him, he seemed to think the world around him a pretty grim place.

But he tried to do what he conceived of as his duty and to be kind. What more can any of us do?

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Something to say amid rage and promise

Having made the painful decision to avoid all crowds for fear of COVID, I have nothing to add to this moment of uprising except the heart warming signs created by my neighbors, out and about San Francisco and even beyond.

What I love about this town is that we have something to say and we say it, in whatever media are available.

Behind our gates, flower gardens, and windows, we express care.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth is a bittersweet celebration

Let's outsource these thoughts to Jadon-Maurice Forbes who sends me those Indivisible emails I often fail to open:

This is a day that my grandmother taught me to honor as the beginnings of a new life for the African diaspora. She was very close to her African-American heritage and wanted to impart that quality to me. So much so that she would replace my Hooked-on-Phonics books with ones she felt were more suitable -- like Imani and the Flying Africans -- a fantastic tale of a band of Africans taking to the sky to escape to freedom.

When I think of Juneteenth, I often imagine those winged, black faces breaking their chains and finding freedom. But the true American tale of how slaves were freed is more grounded in a nuanced, complicated, and painful struggle for freedom that has continued for 155 years (read: that means ‘til today).

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the last of the enslaved Africans in America were freed from their chains, having continued to work in bondage for a full two years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

In many ways, Juneteenth is a bittersweet reminder of what was promised but never delivered to Black folks post-emancipation. It's a reminder of delayed justice. Every year, even after my nana passed away, we celebrated this holiday. And every year, we do so in honor of progress as much as for a continually delayed sense of justice and equality.

Dreams, realized and deferred. Struggle is long. That's why they call it struggle.

Friday cat blogging

We heard a meow. How could that be? At present we are bereft of cat, mourning the irreplaceable Morty.

I looked out, and there he was in the front yard:
He didn't seem much bothered by my watching him explore. I've since learned this is Meo who lives two houses over.

Perhaps this visit was an omen that there'll be another cat in this house one day ...

Thursday, June 18, 2020

This is not the economy we left behind in March

Welcome to the "omni-crisis." To an extent that's hard to take in, we are living in a different, and far less prosperous world and city.

Noah Arroyo, writing for San Francisco Public Press reports:

Construction sites are coming back to life throughout San Francisco, but the surge in activity may not last long.

Builders pulled 334 permits last week, up from zero 10 weeks earlier as the coronavirus shutdown took effect. That puts construction activity at about 58% of normal. In the year leading up to Mayor London Breed’s mid-March order for construction to cease, City Hall received about 580 permit applications a week.

If you look around, it's obvious that some projects are chugging along -- but also that something is wrong.

For the first time in years, there are "For Rent" signs in Mission District windows.

This month the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco dropped 9.2% from a year earlier, to $3,360, according to apartment-listing site Zumper. It was the biggest decline since 2015.

That's still too much for an awful lot of us. And some of the techies whose affluence drove up property values and rents have figured out they can work from home anywhere, including locations that are much cheaper than the City by the Bay. This won't help a lot of people who are here and trying to stay.

In April, almost 6% of city tenants were unable to pay rent because of financial hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic and local order to shelter in place, according to an internal survey by the San Francisco Apartment Association. A study by the California Policy Lab found that nearly 18% of the city’s workforce filed for unemployment insurance benefits between March 16 and May 9.

Folks who aren't working aren't going to be able to pay the rent which landlords who acquired their properties at inflated values need to stay in business.

That is, everybody is screwed.
Meanwhile, small quirky retail businesses along Valencia Street are trying to figure out how to make a buck in a diminished retail environment.

Annika Hom has that story at Mission Local. These places are precarious at best. Lisa Sherratt, at Serendipity is a sole proprietor.

Pre-pandemic, Sherratt made between 50 and 100 sales a day, she said as she arranged the store’s brightly colored cards on the shelves. On Monday, she made 10. 

“It used to be perfectly profitable,” Sherratt said.

It’s not only sales that have set her back.  Already, Sherratt missed April and May’s rent. Her landlord cut her June rent by 75 percent and asked her to pay just under half of July’s. Still, she’s uncertain of the store’s future. She is currently the store’s sole employee. 

“Today I am paying $20 an hour for a babysitter and I am not earning anything,” Sherratt said.

We're properly pre-occupied by the horror and the glimpse of opportunity for real change let loose by local and national revulsion at George Floyd's murder. Humanity is enhanced when Black lives matter. And we're still captured within the unabated coronavirus emergency, even though the Quitter in Chief has gone out to lunch on disease response. All this amid this crashed, still not fully revealed, diminished economy.

At BuzzFeed, Tom Gara brings forward a useful description for this new world we inhabit: this is the "omni-crisis" -- three waves of pain and of potential breaking over us concurrently. No wonder we feel dazed. Anxiety is appropriate.

And then there's that election coming up in November ...

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Can't we do better than this?

On a walk with a parent in 1940, a curious small child looked at this scene and asked: "What's that?"
"Oh, that's some Boy Scouts with a thing they call a pup tent."

On a walk with a parent in 1990, a curious child looked at this scene and asked: "What's that?"
"That's a back packing tent. When you get bigger, we'll do that one day."

On a walk with a parent in 2020, a curious child looked at this scene and asked: "What's that?"
"Oh, that's a tent. That's where some people who don't have houses sleep. Unless they aren't lucky enough to have a tent. Then they sleep in the doorways."

I'm out most mornings at dawn, running in the Mission District streets. It's not like what I hear the Tenderloin looks like -- so many tents that the sidewalks are impassable to walkers. But many blocks, including the one I live on, host at least one tent. The one pictured is half a block from the police department; don't know if that makes for a danger to its occupants or provides a kind of security. All along Valencia Street, people huddle under blankets in doorways.

Can't we do better than this?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Eating, and not eating, in the time of the coronavirus

This column seems to me an excessively happy assessment of life sheltering-in-place -- as well as very much concerned with a first world problem.

Dietitians report that clients are less interested in dieting, and more interested in sustainable eating patterns that enrich their long-term health. The search term “weight loss diets” fell sharply in March and April, according to Google Trends.

“I have definitely seen less talk and fewer questions about fad diets” says Melissa Nieves, a dietitian with Fad Free Nutrition based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “I think people have rightfully put their attention on their protection, survival and well-being during this pandemic. That also includes eating habits becoming more practical and less centered on what diet culture says we should or shouldn’t eat to reach a socially constructed body ideal.”

Cara Rosenbloom, Washington Post

Well, maybe. Most people in my circles keep groaning about the pounds they have put on, but some probably are acquiring improved food habits. This author reports that 45 percent of us said we were cooking more at home, not surprisingly. And many people report eating better, consuming less salt and sugar while adding fruit and vegetables.

But this picture doesn't catch the other stark reality of this time: with 40 million and counting workers out of jobs, many people simply can't afford to buy food. The Highland Country Press of Hillsboro, Ohio, offered a picture of that reality.

“COVID-19 has created the perfect storm, releasing a downpour of difficulties on Ohio families,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. “High unemployment rates and loss of income from jobs has led to a massive surge in demand at our foodbanks at a time when we’re facing significant operational challenges, including declines in volunteers, fundraising revenue and donated foods.”

Foodbanks across the country rapidly shifted operating models to meet skyrocketing demand while mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and they haven’t seen demand ease off for three months. Meanwhile, disruptions to the supply chain have meant fewer retail donations and a surge in food prices putting additional pressure on family food budgets.

“Congress attempted to put an umbrella over families’ heads by means of expanding SNAP aid and increasing unemployment benefits, but it hasn’t been enough,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “The increase in food prices makes the current SNAP benefit amounts even more inadequate to meet basic food needs. Our foodbanks simply cannot keep up with this level of demand – congressional action is needed now.”

Yes, Congressional action is needed -- and Republicans refuse to move on this. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has sent a proposed relief and stimulus bill to the Senate, but the GOPers there are just sitting on it.

Congress should keep it simple, just give people who are hurting more money. Their well-being was sacrificed to try (largely ineptly) to control the virus for the sake of everyone. The food distribution and supply chains would sort themselves out if people could afford to buy.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The police lack all accountability; it's the money

Emily Galvin-Almanza, a public defender and co-director of Partners for Justice thought she should explain her support for #DefundThePolice to her mom. What follows is an adapted Twitter thread in which she made the case.

[Unless bracketed, all text is by Garza-Almanza.]
... And she asked me a question: how could what happened to Rayshard Brooks [killed last Friday by an Atlanta cop] happen, at this moment, in this uprising? How could police keep...doing this?

So this is what I said.

My mom is not steeped in these issues (I mean, she is more now, because, like, she has to be mother to yrs truly). So this thread isn't intended for folks who are already right there with us. I'm hoping this will be useful for folks who are wondering, and who share her questions.

Killings--murders--have continued, and will continue, because the police lack all accountability. It's not just qualified immunity, which protects them from being found liable for things that would bankrupt/jail the rest of us. It's the money.

Follow the money.

Derek Chauvin, the cop who murdered George Floyd, could *still get his million dollar pension* even if he is getting those checks while serving a sentence for homicide.

Police pensions are...generous. Many are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, even if they've been dismissed for the kind of misconduct that would throw you or me into a cell. ...

So you can't get sued, you won't lose your $ no matter what you do, and, what's more, you're living in a culture where morality is upside down, bullies rule, and everyone is trained to be both extremely violent and extremely terrified all the time. ...

... Let's talk about overtime.

As a public defender, whenever I got a case that was just especially, stupidly made-up (think someone arrested for dealing drugs who was at home with no drugs, money, scales, paraphernalia, or baggies on them) the first thing I checked was the cop's schedule.

Inevitably--seriously, ask, like, any defense attorney about this--when you got a really stupid arrest, it would be within an hour or so of the end of the cop's scheduled shift.

Shift ends at 6pm? This really bad arrest would be at, like, 5:30.

Why? Well, because processing an arrest takes time, but it's also really easy. So you can make time-and-a-half for sitting in the precinct typing up some papers and waiting to talk to a DA.

This REALLY adds up. Examples...
Defund the Baltimore Police
Detroit Police overtime up 136 percent over 5 years
Police Overtime Running 2x over budget
We Need To Talk About Boston's Police Budget

Let's not forget that the end-of-shift arrest isn't just an inconvenience--arrests cost people jobs, homes, family unity, sometimes unraveling entire lives.

Some of these cops are making close to half a million dollars a year on the backs of the poor and innocent.

So when we look at police budgets that are bloated like this...it's not just military equipment and chemical weapons.

It's public officials lining their pockets with taxpayer money by doing terrible things to the people they're supposed to protect.

And uhhh it's a lot--A LOT--of the taxpayers' money.

So when you hear "defund the police" and you get worried about a world where there's no one protecting the public, please remember that EVERY MODEL for doing this envisions a world where someone is on the other end of the phone when you call 911. ...

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Police as part of LGBTQI celebrations?

This issue is a hardy perennial. Do we save more queer lives by bringing law enforcement along with us or by showing that we reject these racist, homophobic, violent institutions altogether?

San Diego's current Pride organization has come up with a policy statement:

A Path to Healing & Safer Communities

San Diego Pride asks the City of San Diego to stand with us in support of our Black LGBTQ and ally community. We are asking you to join us in support of the following actions as a further step towards unity.

STEP 1: Law enforcement agencies will no longer have contingents in the San Diego Pride Parade or booths in our Pride Festival. This may be reassessed after the completion of Step 4.

STEP 2: The City of San Diego will recognize the San Diego Pride Parade as a free speech event and no longer bill the organization for road closures and safety.

STEP 3: The City of San Diego will immediately adopt the #8CantWait Campaign recommendations [for police reform from Campaign Zero.]

STEP 4: Support a phased approach to policy reform recommendations centering Black LGBTQ San Diegans.

This would not satisfy me if I were a San Diegan, but it sure is a step up from what most Pride committees have chosen to do about police participation in their festivities in the last 30 years or so.

In a survey of LGBTQ resistance to police our parades festivities from June 2019, Black transfolks and gender queers led the opposition.

“Pride began as a protest, and it’s turned into a parade,” said Malkia Devich Cyril, the executive director of MediaJustice and an activist based in Oakland. “I think what’s happening now is simply a return to its roots.”

I first lost a fight about including police without even critique in what I thought was a radical gay/feminist institution in 1982. This will go until we broadly understand that the purpose of police, as constituted in this country, is not "public safety," but repression of Black people, of all people of color, and of anyone who transgresses straight gender norms.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

That's one solution: stick a pin in it

Sadly, people with power have given up on curbing the epidemic and its damage to our lives. Nevertheless, medical workers trudge forward, doing their utmost amidst suffering and futility.

“None of us are at peace. We’re sort of bracing for it to come back. All of us are wondering, can we go through this again?”

... "We risked our lives to save as many lives as possible, and people can’t wear a mask — they can’t stay six feet apart.”

The national abdication of leadership in the face of some people's demand to "re-open" leaves each individual responsible for calculating their own risk. We each, individually, are left to decide which constraints we'll place on ourselves. For myself, I'm into masks, getting outside as much as possible, and seeing people only six feet apart. Your mileage may vary.

It's not as if there aren't efforts to envision what we would need as a society for an equitable, effective response to the coronavirus. Here's much to ponder from the Black to the Future Action Fund:
  1. Put cash directly into the hands of people
  2. Complete cancellation of student loan payments
  3. Priority for all Black owned small businesses in the next round of PPP (paycheck protection program)
  4. Free testing and coverage of Covid-19 treatments for everyone
  5. Increase testing sites in underserved and rural communities
  6. Mandatory race, gender, and class specific data collection
  7. Cancel rent, mortgages, and evictions + public utilities and internet costs
  8. Safe housing options for victims of domestic violence and at-risk family members of essential workers
  9. Protect our vote
  10. Fund and protect the US Postal Service
And no doubt, defund the police!

As always, it's up to an aroused people to make it so.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Solidarity in the long struggle for justice and freedom

Murder of George Floyd as seen from Mexico

"We, the detained people of dormitories A, B, and C at Mesa Verde ICE Detention Facility, are protesting and on hunger strike in solidarity with the detained people at Otay Mesa Detention Center. We begin our protest in memory of our comrades George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, and Tony McDade. Almost all of us have also suffered through our country’s corrupt and racist criminal justice system before being pushed into the hands of ICE."

ICE, which runs this jail, tried to say it wasn't so.

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement first announced the hunger strike at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, Calif., on Friday, they alleged that detainees were being coerced — both internally and externally — into a hunger strike, and detainees reportedly said they were told that the purpose of the hunger strike was to protest the repetitive cycle of the menu.

Further investigation revealed that detainees began refusing meals as a show of solidarity for Floyd, who died while being detained by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 and whose death sparked protests against police brutality that continue across the nation.

Video via the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Now I know for sure we're living in a failed state

The Ford Foundation, the occupant of this glowing New York City headquarters, has chosen to issue bonds, payable in the far future, in order to increase its grants in this moment of pandemic, economic collapse, and necessary uprisings. According to the Times:

In 2019, the Ford Foundation handed out $520 million in grants. [Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation,] quickly realized that was not going to be anywhere near enough in this crisis-engulfed year.

His solution: Borrow money, spend it quickly and inspire others to follow Ford’s lead. The Ford Foundation plans to announce on Thursday that it will borrow $1 billion so that it can substantially increase the amount of money it distributes.

Walker has lined up four other old-line, extremely affluent, charitable foundations to follow his lead. This is old money stepping up.

Walker at Ford is doing exactly what every progressive and even conventional economist has urged governments to do since 2008: when interest rates are near zero, borrow and push out that cash to build up social capital as well as needed infrastructure. This is what a functional government would do. Unhappily, Republicans have only been willing to allow the government to borrow to give a $1.4 billion dollar tax cut to their rich buddies -- and to their plutocrat in the White House.

So here we find private wealth doing what government ought to be doing. I guess we're lucky there's a Ford Foundation. (This was something I was less sure about back in the day when I was a supplicant. These institutions are awfully satisfied with their own virtue.) They could be doing far worse things with their $13.7 billion dollar endowment. Hitler-loving Henry Ford must be rolling in his grave. Give some of that money to the people who are setting the agenda in the streets!

Resources for working against voter suppression

A friend asked recently if I could point her to how to work against efforts to suppress voting rights. This is a huge subject. It is complicated by the fact that voting in this country is administered at the state and local level, so one size doesn't fit all. But it seems worth sharing the broad overview I came up with here. There's plenty of scope for any one who wants to work on this. Here's what I wrote:

The go-to source on all matters of voting fairness, voter suppression, and vote by mail is the Brennan Center for Justice.

The nation's top scholar of these matters is Rick Hasen (UC Irvine). The top voting expansion lawyer these days (Democrat) is Marc Elias. Op-ed's by either are always valuable as are news stories that quote them.

There are many groups, many organized as non-profits, that work to expand the vote. At the moment, the underlying impulse is coming from the Democrats because restricting the franchise has become part of the Republican Party's orthodoxy in a moment when it can't seem to adapt to changing demographics.

Fair Fight is working largely in Southern states, seems competent, and reasonably well funded.

Voto Latino, Black Voters Matter, and Rock the Vote work to get people registered, a major hurdle to voting.

The national ACLU Voting Rights Project has been at this forever.

In California, the ACLU in San Diego has taken the voting rights lead.

This might seem old fashioned, but in may localities, the League of Women Voters still does vital voting rights work.

All of us help by knowing as much about voting systems as possible. It seems that citizens would be familiar with election procedures, but in fact it's all sort of a black box for many people who are afraid they don't know enough to take part. You can help simply by understanding your local procedures, where to register, when elections take place ... etc.

Hope this gives you some leads. I suggest jumping in somewhere. Many of these groups want more than your money, though they all want that too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Working remotely on the Nevada primary

Yesterday Nevada held its primary election to determine which candidates for local and congressional offices would be the ballot in November. Because Democrats swept the state's offices in 2018, the state had put in place a lot of new election reforms to make voting smoother for all, including online registration, election day registration at the polls, and automatic restoration of rights for released ex-felons.

And then the virus hit. Nevada tried to make this election a largely vote-by-mail affair. Every registered voter was sent a ballot they could return, post paid. As long as their vote was postmarked on or before Election Day -- and properly signed on the outside -- it would count. There were a small number of county drop boxes for the ballots or voters could use the regular mail.

For Californians, this would seem simply a normal election. But voting-by-mail is a novelty in Nevada. Nevadans expect to enjoy about 10 days of neighborhood voting in local supermarkets and libraries before the big day. And the virus made that impossible. So legions of voters found themselves navigating an unfamiliar system if they wanted to vote.

The state Democratic Party used the primary to test systems in case they have to contest the November election in the midst of another wave of the pandemic. (Nevada is one of the states in which cases of COVID are currently rising ...) Erudite Partner and I tested the experience of helping with an election remotely by taking a few shifts answering the NVDems election hotline. The work felt both somewhat worthwhile and quite awkward.

The Dems used Dialpad, a commercial voice-over-internet system, to make and receive calls on the hotline. It worked fine, but its many-featured interface -- an advantage for most business use -- was overkill and confusing for a highly structured volunteer project. You didn't want volunteers clicking around on all those buttons, but it was probably inevitable that some people got lost in them occasionally. And the dialer's functions carried their ordinary labels rather than some customized set that would accord with what we were actually doing. For example, who would expect that to get to a list of recent calls you should click on "English"? For use in the fall with volunteers, systems either need to be customized for function or the training has to be long and detailed -- and even then the learning curve will be steep. (As it was in 2018 on the VAN voter database.)

To capture information about voter calls to the hotline, the Dems used "LBJ," which they claim means "Lawyers Building Justice." Okay, if you say so. Hotline volunteers had to manually transfer reports of each call from Dialpad to LBJ. In the latter system, they had to try to fit that information into a set of categories obviously designed to help election lawyers determine whether a legal irregularity had occurred. Those categories looked sensible to me, good for catching such all too frequent election screw ups as "I wasn't on the list" or "my polling place didn't open." But this wasn't what was happening in Nevada's first vote-by-mail election in the time of COVID. Most of what we encountered was more like "I didn't get my ballot in the mail" or "I've moved; how do I re-register?" Our instructions included useful answers; we could mostly help. But because the system was designed for a different use, what had happened on the call ended up in our own words in the comments boxes, not captured through the system's categories. Since this was a slow moving, low turnout election, the "boiler room" could actually read and digest the information volunteers captured and suggest we call back with additional help to the voter. That was fine this time around, but nobody is going to be able to do that at volume in the November crucible. A pandemic election needs a different data tool, I think.

So how did the Nevada primary go? According to the Nevada Independent, In mostly mail-in election, voters who opt to cast ballot in person face long wait times. They provide a story of long lines at the tiny number of polling locations, mostly consisting of people trying to take advantage of same day registration and re-registration -- an entirely new option for Nevadans. The state DMV where this might have been avoided had been closed since March 13. Doing registration online was unfamiliar. And so these lines defeated the public health purpose.

It's kind of heartening to see that so many wanted to vote in a primary without a presidential draw. Let's hope not many get sick.

For November, there's a huge task ahead of voter and volunteer education ahead.