Friday, July 31, 2020
Friday cat blogging
Thursday, July 30, 2020
What might Miss Manners suggest?
I want to propose three general ground rules for interacting with people right now.The rules are: (1) When you make plans, make them very specific, and avoid changing them at the last minute. (2) Defer to the most cautious person in your presence. (3) Do not take it personally if someone is more cautious than you.To elaborate, with examples I made up:
(1) Be very detailed about any plans you make to see other people. If you invite friends over to sit in your driveway and have a drink, don't suggest as people arrive that you sit on the back deck instead. Among your friends might be someone intending to give herself 10 feet of space instead of 6. She might have been excited about the driveway idea because it's not only outdoors but effectively unbounded; she knew she'd be able to make as much space for herself as she felt she needed. Then you move to the deck and space is more limited, and she is faced with a really awkward decision. ...The point is that trying to make decisions on the fly is incredibly stressful. You might be 100% confident that you understand the relative risk of things. But you don't know what other people's understanding is. And the split-second after being told that the location or the menu has changed is not a good scenario for evaluating risk, especially with an audience. Don't put people in that position.(2) On that note, when you and a person in your presence have different (verbalized or apparent) levels of caution, the obvious and decent thing to do is match the more cautious person's behaviors. If you don't wear a mask but you notice one of your co-workers tends to, then put on a mask when you are going to be anywhere near them. Their mask usage is a clear indicator that they think mask usage is important. ...(3) This also doesn't mean that this person has an issue with you in particular. Do not take it personally.
Some people are approaching the world with an understanding that there are essentially two groups of people: the ones I live with, and everyone else. From a public health perspective, the standards I apply to interacting with anyone in the latter group should be consistent, whether you are someone I work with, a friend, a relative, or a stranger. I do not and cannot know whether you are carrying a potentially deadly, poorly understood, highly contagious virus, so to the greatest extent possible, I'm going to behave like you are carrying it, no matter who you are. ...... People want to interact with the world, and some of us never stop thinking about how to do it right in this not-at-all right world we find ourselves in.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Testing in the 'hood
"Even doctors can spread misinformation, and despite the claims, there are numerous studies showing lack of efficacy even when used early on. That's why we created a process to sift good information from the bad in an objective manner.
"You can always find outliers. What do the MAJORITY of credible doctors and scientists say. Just b/c the far right trots out a handful of scientists who deny global warming doesn't mean we aren't all in a slow cooker.
"Also, if a doctor says he knows his cures work bc others doctors tried it and told him so, then scoffs at double blinded randomized studies, rest assured you are not getting good information. Anecdotal evidence is as useful as a monkey's fart.
"Just because your great aunt Tandy once plastered onion to your 3rd cousins feet and cured his syphylis does not mean everyone needs to run out and buy onion flip flops. There are doctors going around claiming they are curing covid with hydroxychloroquine, zinc and azithromycin.
"Please remember MOST people will get better with nothing, just like MOST people recover from the flu. The fact that you drank a tequila and wheat grass shot 3 times a day does not mean it was a "cure" for the flu."
"Before Trump and his supporters embrace [Dr. Stella] Immanuel’s medical expertise, though, they should consider other medical claims Immanuel has made—including those about alien DNA and the physical effects of having sex with witches and demons in your dreams. ...
"She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens."
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Dumb election punditry
Monday, July 27, 2020
Good news: so far, the epidemic has not exploded at Laguna Honda
Now, four months into the pandemic, not one Laguna Honda resident or worker has died of COVID-19, public health officials say. Of the 721 people living there, 19 have become infected. And of more than 1,800 employees, 50 have tested positive.
- The city received useful help from the CDC in training staff in effective handwashing and how to wear masks and gowns.
- The city somehow got hold of enough PPE so workers could follow safety rules without having to worry they would run out.
- There was enough space to create a separate COVID area so infected patients could be quarantined for 28 days.
- Testing was slow to ramp up, for lack of tests and equipment, but eventually all residents and staff were put on a two week regular testing schedule.
- When workers did develop symptoms, the local public health department devoted personnel to contact tracing.
Sunday, July 26, 2020
For an unsettled Sunday: Portland is being used
... [A]s an Anabaptist pastor who believes the way of Jesus is the way of nonviolence, I’ve also struggled to know how to respond to the protests down at the Justice Center.
How do I talk about the police violence compared to the protesters’ when there is an enormous imbalance of power? The police have guns, munitions and tear gas. The protesters have laser lights, water bottles and the occasional naked woman (nudity is legal in Portland if it is an act of protest). The protesters break windows, but the police are breaking bodies. The protesters light fires, but they’re also being taken away by officers with no identification in unmarked cars.
What do I think about the destruction of property?
Obviously as a follower of Jesus, I value people over property. But it’s also scary. It feels out of control. And it does come at a cost.
In the midst of all my questions, however, there is one thing I am certain of: Portland is being used. ...
Jesus didn’t mind joining forces with imperfect people. After these protests, whenever I think about Simon the Zealot I picture him as a punk antifa kid — angry at systemic injustice of the world, passionate that things change. Simon, the punk zealot that he was, was a part of Jesus’ crew. ...
... Our calling as Christians isn’t to separate ourselves from imperfect people or imperfect protests. Our calling is to cause them to rise. To lift them. To let the flour and water help us be what we were always meant to be: bread for the world.
I’m afraid the power moves are sucking the air out of the loaf. I’m afraid a conversation that should be focused on the infinitely precious lives of Black Americans is getting deflated into political set-to. We cannot let that happen.
Many "essential" workers are getting sick, but not all
I seem to be going to Andy Slavitt's twitter threads (@ASlavitt) about once a month for my COVID updates. Slavitt was the techie brought in to fix the Obamacare website in 2013. He stayed in that administration to become a health policy wonk. He's a smart guy who thinks the humans should be able to fix things in the societies we create -- even in a pandemic.
This thread grabbed my heart. I did, after all, work for and with California migrant farmworkers for years. Listen up:
If you don’t know many people who have Coronavirus, its because you don’t know the people who pick the food you eat.
Yes many of the people getting sick are working for us.
... The virus is becoming more predictable. At least until it gets inside the human body.
It goes to big cities where it finds clusters [of vulnerable hosts] until people get their act together. Then it goes to smaller cities. It preys on locations where people are forced together indoors.
Since it will spread anywhere people congregate (faster with poor ventilation without good masks), many who can avoid those places will.
After stops & starts more, bars will close. More masks will be required. People will stay home.
But this is only true for those who can [stay home].
Are migrant farm workers in 114 degree Yuma, AZ picking the beautiful melons we eat wearing masks? One third are.
[Think five workerss] in a Ford F-150 up at 6am to earn & send money home.
Then to Imperial County, to Salinas, to Fresno, to Wachata, WA. Picking strawberries, lettuce, grapes & apples.
In these migrant camps, high percentages are sick. And then they travel from farm to farm. Across Florida, Arizona, Texas, California.
Agriculture may seem a million miles from how you live (or I) & it may not be the first thing you think of when you think of California, say.
But during the “Stay Home” orders, 60% of Californians were forced to go to work. [Many] in agriculture or in related service areas.
Even without agriculture, large portions of the workforce never stopped.
To everyone who complained about the stay-at-home orders, for a large chunk of the [working] country, they would have felt lucky.
Any grocery worker, trucker driver, or day laborer now sick with COVID didn’t have the choice.
... The lack of a humane & national approach means people on the margins suffer first and most.
What to do?
- Prioritize testing in farm & rural communities
- Airlift cases from rural areas to bigger hospitals
- Give resources to OSHA & farms, meatpacking plants, distro centers, trucking
Nothing works without reduction in cases & more testing. That may require a serious conversation about a harder lockdown.
- Reconsider which services are essential
This is also why there’s no such thing as innocent, harmless cases. Given the rate of spread, we eventually harm others without as much choice.
Often the very people who feed us. /end
This was preventable.
Until the coronavirus struck and shut down restaurants, Vitamix focused on commercial blenders, a favorite of professional chefs. For its health-conscious following, the blender held rock star status for its ability to do everything from whipping up smoothies to grinding nuts.
[Jodi Berg, the president and CEO,] is the fourth generation of her family to head the privately owned firm, headquartered in Olmsted Township, Ohio. It has more than 800 employees, including 300 at its Strongsville plant.
During the pandemic, with people cooking more at home, sales for the consumer line have increased, Berg said. The company is hiring additional workers to meet demand.
... Ohio manufacturers with operations in China had been sharing with colleagues how masks had stopped the spread of coronavirus, even at facilities with thousands of workers. But there were shortages of industrially made masks, as well as cloth masks.
So [Charlie Gallagher, vice president of supply chain and operations,] asked a neighbor, who has a small sewing business, if she could make masks for the plant. She could make 300 at $7 each. There was one issue. The only way she could fill the order was by using green-and-white material with a 4-H emblem.
“I said, ‘I don’t care what they look like as long as they keep people safe,’” Gallagher said. And so by the end of March, the plant was fully masked up. About a month later, the company was able to buy commercially made masks.
The plant, which has remained open throughout the pandemic, has had no recorded cases of coronavirus infection occurring at the facility, the company said.
Saturday, July 25, 2020
What it is really like work on a campaign: fending off free advice
Here's a snippet from a gossipy New York Times article about the Biden campaign.
I don't quite believe Ron Klain about this. He's an old pro who knows better. A deluge of advice and "helpful" ideas always is part of what successful campaigns must navigate. Somehow, whoever is responsible for setting the strategy and tactics has to develop a plan and stick to it -- without seriously pissing off either self-aggrandizing and/or well-intentioned supporters. All that, while remaining alert to any suggestion that really might be useful amidst the maelstrom.“I’ve really never been in a campaign where so many people every day are reaching out to me with offers of assistance, advice, input, suggestions about everything,” said Ron Klain, who served as Mr. Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president.
“Everybody wants to win,” said Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, one of the campaign’s co-chairmen. “And everybody wants to give their ideas on what they think it takes to win.”
All that input has its downsides. “At some point you have to be able to make a decision and execute a strategy,” said Representative Richmond. He credits the nominee’s tight inner circle for keeping the campaign on track. “You just can’t have a million coaches.”
Some close to Mr. Biden have adopted a more absolutist approach. “I get letters and telephone calls from people saying, ‘This is what Biden needs to do,’ or, ‘This is what you need to tell Biden to do,’” said Representative Jim Clyburn, the South Carolina Democrat, chuckling. “I don’t tell him any of it.”
Campaigns, and particularly this one in 2020, are anxious battlefields on which hope and fear war with each other. Rank and file Democrats and progressives are fired up to "fumigate" the White House. (That's Nancy Pelosi's language; I like it.) They think their lives depend on Joe Biden campaigning well -- and they are not wrong. But tamping down our appropriate angst is another campaign burden.
The professional Democratic Party class thinks, with plenty of current evidence, that Joe Biden is likely to win this election. So they all want in and hope to get some credit. So they offer more good advice.
Media and pundits want stories to tell. They have advice too.
Most campaigns need someone to do the job Representative Clyburn says he's taken up; listening without alienating, while filtering out what is useless.
Photo (from Wikipedia) shows Ron Klain (l.) working with President Barack Obama in 2012 on debate prep. John Kerry was playing the role of Mitt Romney.
Friday, July 24, 2020
Friday cat blogging
Thursday, July 23, 2020
These are the predictions of Washington Post business and economic columnist Steven Pearlstein. And he thinks Dems will kill the Senate filibuster to get it done by majority vote.
- Repealing every deregulatory initiative of the Trump administration while imposing new restrictions on coal companies and the oil and gas industry;
- Repealing the Trump tax cuts and raising rates on business profits and profits made by individuals from the sale of stocks, bonds and real estate;
- Repealing tax loopholes that benefit hedge fund and private equity managers and real estate developers;
- Restricting stock buybacks;
- Taxing financial transactions to discourage rapid-fire computerized trading and the hedge fund profits it generates;
- Tripling the IRS budget for audits of corporate tax returns and crackdown on overseas tax shelters;
- Launching aggressive antitrust cases to break up tech giants and telecom oligopolies;
- Reforming the bankruptcy code to favor consumers and workers over banks and bottom-fishing hedge funds;
- Raising the minimum wage and reforming labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize;
- Regulating, for the first time, the shadow banking system and derivatives market;
- Imposing price caps on prescription drugs, medical devices and hospital services;
- Overturning Supreme Court decisions limiting lawsuits against businesses by workers and consumers;
- Requiring disclosure of corporate political spending laundered through secretive front groups and sham nonprofits
Let's hope he's right and let's make it happen.
Uncovering what is essential
Erudite Partner has written at length about how the pandemic is reshaping our economic lives:
Read it all at Tom Dispatch.
Until an effective vaccine for the coronavirus becomes available, expect to see the emergence of a three-tier system of worker immiseration: low-paid essential workers who must leave home to do their jobs, putting themselves in significant danger in the process, while we all depend on them for sustenance; better paid people who toil at home, but whose employers will expect their hours of availability to expand to fill the waking day; and low-paid or unpaid domestic laborers, most of them women, who keep everyone else fed, clothed, and comforted.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
A tale of two states
We're all, of necessity, learning that there is no way to "open the economy" unless we first control the spread of the virus. The linked article presents a clear explanation that there are no shortcuts.
Arizona reopened rapidly in defiance of a novel coronavirus. It’s quickly become a canonical example of how not to respond to a pandemic. And you don’t have to look far for the tortoise to Arizona’s hare: New Mexico, its close neighbor in the Desert Southwest, has taken a more deliberate approach.
The two states start in a similar place, seen through early virus exposure. They end in a similar place, seen through levels of economic activity. But the slower, steadier path New Mexico followed differed in crucial ways. As did the human cost.
Ending the pandemic requires increased immunity -- we can hope by way of quick invention of a vaccine. Failing that, science will have to come up with treatments that make infection with COVID a minor inconvenience. For everyone.
And until one or both of those outcomes has been achieved, a frightened population simply won't go out to work, or send kids to school, or consume. Therefore genuine economic recovery can't happen.
For now, our existence must consist of living with precaution and practicing patience. Better, smarter leadership would help, though no leadership is going to be perfect.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Democracy at work for wild places
It's a good, and almost unfathomable, fact that pressure on legislators to show their constituents that they are doing something useful can still sometimes prevail in this anxious election year. And just that is happening in Congress right now.
The House will take it up this week; Democrats are down with it, so it should pass. The law not only appropriates funds for the park infrastructure, but also puts $900 million a year into a land acquisition fund created by receipts from gas and oil drilling on public properties. This cash can be used to purchase more public lands, including parcels stranded within national parks and wildlife areas, as well as to improve state and local parks.
The Great American Outdoors Act, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate by a 73-to-25 vote on June 17, has been called one of the most important environmental bills in history because it could nearly eliminate a $12 billion National Park Service maintenance backlog and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for the first time since it was enacted in the 1960s.
The White House has indicated Trump will sign the law.
So to what do we owe this miracle of functioning government in Washington overriding partisan gridlock? Election year politics, of course.
I'll be hoping we can replace these two GOPers in November, but in the meantime good may be coming from their electoral vulnerability.
Despite the broad popularity of these policies in California and nationally, getting the legislation to this point took a chance alignment of the “political stars” [according to Holly Doremus, an environmental regulation professor at UC Berkeley.]
Prominent in that constellation were Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, Republicans from outdoors-friendly states who are considered vulnerable in their reelection bids. Party leaders, including Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have gone out of their way to give credit to the two senators for shepherding the measure through Congress, even as some critics call their effort an aberration from otherwise less-than-green politics.
Monday, July 20, 2020
Trump's Ronald Reagan gambit
This is the Ronald Reagan of his California Governor terms. Fear your popularity is waning? Go find some young people, Berkeley students were preferred, and send in thuggish cops to beat and disperse them. Tear gas, batons, and helicopters make great theater; your weapons work as theater. White people in the burbs think you are protecting them. Who cares if a random young person gets blinded or even killed by your goon squad (back in the day it was Alameda county sheriffs)?
And -- crucially -- everyone forgets the substantive issues the students were raising and remembers the presence of protesters meant wild, fearsome violent scenes.
This may not work so well today. Most of the demonstrators nationally seem to have adopted a disciplined focus on demands for racial justice. The national racial reckoning is broad and deep and has established its issues in the national consciousness. Reagan's play, and the Trump/Barr play, is to goad the undisciplined among the demonstrators to play cat and mouse games in the streets and lose the thread.
The Moms have the right idea in the video. My friends in Portland have the right idea -- they go to speak out, not to play street guerilla.
This moment is about justice for Black lives. If we can remember what its all about, that remains our best defense against Trump's outrages. Trump is reaching into a dead past; we can move on toward a better future.
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Overview of U.S. Senate elections in 2020
But that will mean little unless Democrats also capture the U.S. Senate. A Republican-controlled Senate can block much of what we need from government. So we've got a lot to do. Friends have asked me to lay out what I know about which Senate elections are most meaningful to winning a Democratic majority. Obviously this is where many of us want to put our energy. I'm just a moderately informed observer, but here's my overview:
Democrats currently hold 47 seats (including two independents, Bernie Sanders-VT and Angus King-ME). So, theoretically, if Biden wins and Dems gained 3 seats, they would control the Senate because whoever Biden chooses for Vice President would break tie votes.
But it's not so simple. As you can see from the pink coloring above, polls say Alabama's Democratic Senator Doug Jones is going to have to move mountains to hold off a Trump-loving Auburn football coach. So actually Dems may need to win 4 seats somewhere to have a majority.
And Dems have one seat (light blue above) that may need some serious defending, that held by Michigan incumbent Senator Gary Peters. His opponent, Republican John James, is a attractive, competent candidate who has out fundraised Peters in recent quarters. However, the context in the state is good for Peters. Michigan is a battleground state which will receive a lot of Democratic focus; Joe Biden is 11 points ahead there today; and its Democratic governor clashed with Trump over COVID, largely to her advantage. But still worth watching.
Pollsters consider there are three tossup seats most likely to fall to Democratic challengers.
In Maine, incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins is in the race of her long political life. State senate leader Sara Gideon is an experienced politician who has outraised Collins by $9.2 million to $3.6 million in the last quarter. Collins has been hurt by voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court while claiming he'd stand up for abortion rights (not so in the recent session) and by voting to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial. But Collins is wily and well suited to Maine's rural expanses, so this will be a fight.
In Colorado, Democratic former governor John Hickenlooper is trying to unseat incumbent GOPer Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper was a very popular office holder, though Dem voters found him dull as dishwater in his brief presidential run. Like other Dem candidates, he outraised Gardner by a couple of million dollars in the recent quarter. He polls well. But I don't think we can take this one for granted: in 2016, Democrat Evan Bayh, a former Senator and legendary name in Indiana, looked like a shoo-in to regain a seat he had previously held -- Republicans creamed him. Hickenlooper seems a stronger candidate, but this race could go sour.
In Arizona, former astronaut Mark Kelly is taking on Republican appointed-Senator Martha McSally. Weirdly, McSally lost a Senate race in 2018 to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema -- so Arizona's Republican governor then appointed her to the Senate seat made vacant by John McCain's death. On paper she has a terrific resumé, but Kelly has led in every poll this year despite running in what was once the center of Republican Goldwater cowboy conservatism. And Kelly has vastly outraised McSally, $12.8 million to $9.3 million last quarter. Arizona will be a viciously contested state at the presidential level; the emergent Democratic coalition -- people of various colors, including a huge Latinx segment, Native indigenous voters, Black voters alongisde educated suburban whites -- is beginning to show its potential here. It is the previously solidly GOP state most thought possible to flip for a Democrat.
After this set of three seats, where are the Dems most likely to find another win? Here I'm seriously speculating, though there are encouraging benchmarks.
In Montana, another Democratic Governor, Steve Bullock, is running against incumbent Republican Steve Daines. Unlike Hickenlooper, Bullock is still in office now, and is getting high marks for his handling of the coronavirus. And, although Montana will certainly vote for Trump for president, it has a current history of electing Democratic Senators. Its other one is Jon Tester, first elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2012 and 2018, who always seemed an unlikely Democratic survivor in the rural West. Montanans have shown they will vote for a candidate who they find somehow authentic, even by splitting their votes between parties. And as in other Senate races, Bullock out raised the other guy by a couple of million dollars last quarter -- no small change in lightly populated Montana. I'm very hopeful about Bullock.
In North Carolina, Democrat Cal Cunningham is challenging incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis. North Carolina is the ultimate battleground state: the parties have been hammering each other in a no-holds-barred partisan fight for about a decade, with local GOPers trying and often succeeding at gerrymandering and voter suppression. There's a fight near to the death going on there between a rural old South and a growing, more educated, urban population. The latter, with Black and Latinx turnout, elected a Democratic governor in 2016 and the Republicans have been trying to take away his executive powers ever since. That Governor, Roy Cooper, is on the ballot again in 2020. As in so many of these contests, Cunningham raised $7.4 million while Sen. Thom Tillis raised $2.6 million in the last quarter. Cunningham definitely has a chance, though this election will be terribly hard fought and probably vicious. Both Biden and Cunningham have led in some polls, though not by much.
Then there are the true long shots:
In Georgia, there are two Senate elections this fall. In the regular one, Democrat Jon Ossoff is running against incumbent David Perdue (yes, he's from the chicken packing family.) Ossoff is a heck of a fund raiser and even leads in some polls, though it will take a lot more evidence before many people believe in his chances. The other Senate race is actually a sort of primary. Incumbent Republican Senator Johnny Isakson resigned for health reasons. Republican governor Brian Kemp appointed plutocrat Kelly Loeffler (she's married to the guy who owns the New York Stock Exchange and, yes, I do hold it against her). The Trumpie parts of the GOP wanted Congressman Doug Collins in the seat. So Collins is running against a Senator of his own party. Dems have fielded Raphael Warnock, who is pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic Atlanta church and is endorsed by Stacy Abrams, as well as several other contenders. The way this special election works, the whole lot of them run in November, then the top two vote-getters duke it out in a special election on January 5, 2121. At the moment, the contenders would be Collins in first, trailed by Loeffler. But who knows where this crazy mess goes. Dems could win one Senate seat, or two, or none, in Georgia.
In Iowa, challenger Theresa Greenfield is giving Republican Senator Joni Ernst a strong run. Ernst broke into the national conversation in 2014 by running an ad boasting of her prowess at castrating pigs. In June, the often accurate Des Moines Register poll found Greenfield ahead. Social Security death benefits saved her family; she promises to protect Social Security for all. Can she pull it off?
And finally, a couple of seats where wishful hopes are not yet born out by polling. In South Carolina, Democrat Jaime Harrison is a wonderfully attractive candidate against loathsome Trump suck-up Lyndsey Graham. And wouldn't it be great if Moscow Mitch McConnell in Kentucky could get his comeuppance? Democratic challenger Amy McGrath is a prodigious fundraiser -- but it is hard do more than hope she can do it in this very conservative state.
All of these Republican Senate candidacies are being held back by the anchor around their necks that is Donald Trump. The Democrats look safe to hold the House of Representatives which we won in 2018. There are even some promising Democratic House seat pick ups, particularly in Texas suburbs.
No one can say that those of us who live in noncompetitive states don't have choices to work on. Just pick one or more and do it.
(Fundraising numbers here cribbed from an article in The Trailer.)
Saturday, July 18, 2020
We got our marching orders.
In my last interview with Lewis last month, I asked him what advice he had for this generation of marchers, who will invariably face setbacks. “You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give any more,” he said. “We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it.”
Friday, July 17, 2020
Friday cat blogging
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Vengeance, only vengeance
After a decade break, the federal government is back in the retail killing business, thanks to the cruel enthusiasms of the Orange Cheeto, of his slimy obedient toady Bill Barr, and of a Supreme Court majority which privileges legalistic form over human justice. Add to that malevolent stew a dash of Law'nOrdure politics and you get three dead old men, at least one with Alzheimers, in a busy week at the death chamber in Indiana.
The death penalty is always arbitrary. Bad guys who are poor, whose lives are particularly repugnant, who have lousy lawyers, who are disproportionately of color, get the orders for execution. Other criminals with slightly better luck get long time, or even no time, for equally awful offenses.
The scholar of the death penalty Austin Sarat enumerates how "tough on crime" policies have distorted charging and sentencing in the federal courts.
We endorse state killing of offenders because we feel some acts are so bad something has to be done. But the feeling makes bad law. The Los Angeles Times has been through California's death penalty wars and knows what to ask:
A Department of Justice study published in 2000 found significant racial disparities in the department’s own handling of capital charging decisions. It reported that from 1995 to 2000, minority defendants were involved in 80% of the cases federal prosecutors referred to the department for consideration as capital prosecutions. In 72% of the cases approved for prosecution, the defendants were persons of color.
In addition, white defendants were twice as likely as members of racial minorities to be offered a plea deal with life in prison as the punishment.
Another study found a similar pattern in drug kingpin cases. The vast majority of defendants convicted under the 1988 law have been white. However, when the death penalty has been used in those kinds of cases, only 11% of the people convicted were white, while 89% were black or Hispanic.
And racial minorities now comprise 52% of the inmates awaiting execution at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, a figure only slightly lower than the 55% found on state death rows.
But race is not the only source of disparity in the federal system. Geography plays a key role as well in both charging and sentencing decisions.
From 1995 to 2000, 42% of the 183 federal death cases submitted to the Attorney General for review came from just 5 of the 94 federal districts.
Federal death verdicts, like those in the states, are concentrated in the states of the former confederacy. Three of them—Texas, Missouri, and Virginia—account for 40% of the total.
One more injustice that's got to end.... This is justice?
Backers of the death penalty argue that it is there to dispose of the “worst of the worst,” but in practice it falls disproportionately on people of color, the poor and the mentally ill, and executions usually come so long after the crime itself that there no longer is a penological justification for it.
So we’re left with vengeance for the sake of vengeance, even if it means letting the government kill its own citizens, a brazenly excessive use of government power.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Do we need the national anthem at sports events?
San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Bruce Jenkins makes a suggestion that might have been taboo without a pandemic and a racial reckoning. He reports what he has seen:
Exactly. Jenkins informs me that the song wasn't officially adopted until 1931, though the lyrics derive from the War of 1812 -- a war that actually was a losing martial enterprise. In that conflict, the U.S. lucked out that the Brits got busy fighting Napoleon and didn't finish punishing their former colony.
It’s time to stop playing the national anthem at every sporting event
... Nobody’s more aware of the anthem and its fading relevance than those who have covered baseball on a daily basis for eight months. Scanning the press box and field-level seats in pre-pandemic times, you might see a few people singing, or pressing a hand to the heart. Mostly you see those who are merely tolerating the exercise. Cynical types take note of a performance lasting way too long, or perhaps they just head to the bathroom — anything but stand there and endure what usually amounts to a mediocre rendition.
I once heard someone mutter, “We know what damn country we’re in. Get on with it.”
Fortunately, the combination of playing in quarantine bubbles and George Floyd's murder has freed up the Black athletes without whom most professional sports wouldn't exist to express themselves -- and the hell with what their "owners" and Donald Trump might like.
Personally, I've avoided standing for the anthem since the Vietnam war. Recurrent military adventures have disconnected what patriotic impulses I feel from flag or armed forces, while the worst of our impulses have been appropriated to imperial projects.
Mass singing will probably be discouraged for a long time in response to the coronavirus. If we have to have a national song, how about substituting America the Beautiful? It's author, Katharine Lee Bates, was one of those 19th century independent women whose affectionate relationships might later have been called either lesbian or bi-sexual, so that pleases me. Her lyric and her identity feel a good antidote the martial masculine appropriation of love of country.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
In honor of France's national day: La Marseillaise
Our national anthem can be off-putting to some of us with all those "bombs bursting in air," though we may be unaware our soldiers were the targets, not the attackers in that song. French peasants incited to slit the throats of the enemies of their freedom don't make an entirely attractive picture either.
But the French know grandeur, at least in this celebration of La Liberté.
From my clutter: oddments from the pandemic
It turns out that smoking and vaping are risk factors.
I wonder about this when I pass, six feet or more away, someone smoking on the sidewalk. If I can smell smoke through my mask, might there be aerosolized coronavirus out there? You can't smoke wearing a mask.
Some health workers feel ever closer to breaking down. Listen to a doc in Arizona.
One-third of young people across the country may be at risk of getting seriously sick with COVID-19, especially if they smoke or vape, according to a UCSF study published Monday in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Smoking was the most common risk factor for severe COVID-19 complications among otherwise largely healthy young people, the study found.
Researchers are beginning to understand how the virus spreads. Fortunately not every infected person passes it on -- but wow, this disease can flare up fast.
In a medical crisis, my job is to manage a clinical team, problem-solve and be in control. It is hard to admit that I feel vulnerable and scared when I think of the Covid-19 surge we are facing now and the combined Covid-19 and influenza tsunami expected later this year. But I am admitting it because you need to know how close health care workers are to breaking.
... Emergency medical and critical-care team members are canaries in the coal mine. When we are understaffed and overworked, when there is no staff to triage patients, when more and more patients are piling up at the emergency department door, the system breaks down, then people break down. You can borrow ventilators (until you can’t) and make more personal protective equipment (we hope). You cannot magically produce more nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians or other professionals.
Some of the worst fires seem to be ignited in bars. Gov. Gavin has just shut down the bars in California again. Might help slow this thing. Meanwhile Jordan Weissmann proposes "We need a national bar rescue."
Most infected people don’t pass on the coronavirus to someone else. But a small number pass it on to many others in so-called superspreading events.
“You can think about throwing a match at kindling,” said Ben Althouse, principal research scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, Wash. “You throw one match, it may not light the kindling. You throw another match, it may not light the kindling. But then one match hits in the right spot, and all of a sudden the fire goes up.”
People who've lived through coronavirus infections probably have some immunity, but researchers fear immunity is not lasting. Studies are still preliminary and may change with more information, but if this finding holds, it is going to make it difficult to develop a vaccine.
Here in the San Francisco Mission, a testing study documented that a vastly disproportionate number of local cases of COVID happen among the Latinx population. Elsewhere, authorities are having trouble documenting which groups are most afflicted because of confusion about who should be counted as Latinx, according to the Washington Post.
People who have recovered from Covid-19 may lose their immunity to the disease within months, according to research suggesting the virus could reinfect people year after year, like common colds.
The immune system has multiple ways to fight the coronavirus but if antibodies are the main line of defense, the findings suggested people could become reinfected in seasonal waves and that vaccines may not protect them for long.
Let's just hope somehow the work of the Census is accomplished during the pandemic; the feds have extended the response deadline to October 31. Maybe some of New York City's rich Upper East Side residents who fled the coronavirus outbreak will come back by then and get with the program. As of now, they are not completing their Census forms.
Federal and local governments and hospitals all count race and ethnicity differently. In many critical forms and submissions, including the census, the government race category forces Latinos to choose among white, black or African American, Asian, American Indian and Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. There is nothing for a Latino to check except the lonely box marked “other.” Latinos are literally “othered” in these official government counts. Federal forms allow Hispanics to be counted in the ethnicity category, but this is not always the number used for policy development or resource allocations.
Dr. Larry Brilliant, the Marin County public health guru who is given credit for a major role in eradicating smallpox, finds the COVID pandemic both terrifying and exciting.
We can certainly hope he's right.
... This is a big fucking deal. If I would not be excommunicated from the world of science, I would call this an evil virus, but I can’t do that because I can’t [impute] motives to it. But if I could, I would call it that. It’s certainly pernicious. This is the worst pandemic in our lifetime. And it is the first time we have had a pandemic in the United States in which we have had such a total, abysmal failure of our federal government.
... When you get a vaccine, you get a vaccine campaign. We have around 160 vaccines today in various stages of trial or hypothesis or funding, with maybe a dozen candidates emerging. Several are from China. China is looking at its ability to rapidly produce a vaccine as a demonstration of modernity, scientific acumen, and a little bit of redemption, because they were the place at which Covid emerged. When one or two or three of those vaccines are declared workable and we have made sufficient quantities, you don’t get rainbows and unicorns. What you will most likely get is a food fight.
... You can be really optimistic that science is moving at a pace unknown before. Just as the virus is growing exponentially, science is growing exponentially. MIT has recorded over 20,000 scientific papers that are on the virus. We have taken a page out of Silicon Valley, and we are exchanging money for speed. And we are doing things now in parallel instead of in sequence.
We are simultaneously testing the safety and the efficacy and the efficiency of vaccine candidates. You may begrudge the fact that it’s not days or months, but you have to be optimistic about creating a novel vaccine in the length of time that Tony Fauci is talking about, 12 to 18 months. ...
Dean Maurice Charles of the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago urges patience.
Those who lived through the panic and confusion of the early days of AIDs have lessons to offer in this time -- and still have to ask, does anyone want to listen?
I already made the decision at Rockefeller Chapel to suspend services for the duration of the summer term and interim despite guidelines to the contrary offered by the state and city based on politics, not science. Faithful people long to gather, I know. But I have it on good authority that viruses are agnostic. Masks and physical distancing indoors only reduce the possibility of transmission. They do not eliminate it. Those of us who lived through the height of the HIV/AIDs pandemic (which we still cannot discuss in many churches, to our detriment and our shame) have dealt with this before. We need to be patient as scientists and medical professionals learn more about this virus.
Monday, July 13, 2020
What is education for?
DeVos said something interesting: "Look, American investment in education is a promise to students and their families. If schools aren't going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn't get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise,” she said.
But it also underlines what the plutocratic part of the Republican party has always thought education was for: to produce an ongoing supply of trained and socialized new bodies to staff whatever economy provides their wealth. In industrial times, they wanted factory workers educated and disciplined enough to run the machines. Today they are less sure what they want, though they'll reward some young people for becoming comfortable having their lives and minds regulated by computers. And for working for the privilege of such desiccated learning.
The pandemic has highlighted another function DeVos and the GOPers want from schools: schools free up parents to provide what we've learned to call "essential services" (this used to be just "low-wage work") to themselves and a more favored slice of the workforce. If this expensive childcare apparatus can't do that job, Trump and Republicans become unwilling to pay for it. Why not just dump the middlemen -- the vast public education bureaucracy?
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Learning without schooling
Westover's father was/is a patriarchal religious cultist, full of 19th century European conspiracy gobbledegook about the Illuminati, grafted onto an unreformed Mormonism. Her mother was/is a gifted midwife and herbalist enthralled to the headship of her pathological husband. Tara was/is the youngest of seven siblings raised on a mountain side in rural Idaho. The patriarch understood that, however remotely they were located, the children would (and should to my way of thinking) have been removed from his abusive household by a functioning social welfare state. So most of the tribe grew up in familial isolation, without birth certificates, or seeing doctors for vaccinations, illness or injury, or experiencing any organized public schooling.
Though the Westovers were dirt poor, this is not a book about rural deprivation. The family worked dangerously and long to scratch out a precarious living. But Westover's upbringing, though shocking in the moments of repeated carnage in a junk yard, is about familial abuse and patriarchal violence, not hunger or want.
Tara Westover somehow figured out she desired a college education. She'd had next to no formal schooling but had learned to read carefully and deeply by studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon. And she shared the family belief that if you wanted and needed to learn something, you could. She acquired test practice books and taught herself some algebra from high school texts -- and somehow aced the ACT (American College Test) winning entrance to Brigham Young University. And there, and subsequently on a fellowship to Cambridge in England, her intellectual and moral universe was blown apart, re-ordered by dint of her own diligence and luck in finding intellectual mentors. The consequence was alienation from most of her family back on the mountain, other than some more distant relatives and two siblings who ended up living away and acquiring PhD degrees themselves.
In this awful coronavirus moment when parents and teachers and all of us are trying to figure out what can be done for a generation of children for whom organized public schooling is inaccessible, the book's lesson that learning can be acquired without the conventional formal process seems important. Tara Westover wanted to learn; she found books; she filled the enormous gaps her life had left; and the process led her out of an intellectual and moral cul-de-sac. She is living proof that, if young people feel motivated to learn something, and enjoy half a chance, and don't have the impulse bored out of them by regimented schooling, some will thrive.
I'm extremely sympathetic to this insight, because I share much of Westover's view that children (and all of us) will learn when we want to. Located very differently, I solved the deadening effect of schooling by excelling at it -- impressing the teachers and getting good grades were the price of a stultifying world allowing me to follow my intellectual curiosities. If I succeeded on their terms, they'd let me alone to explore and think. And then I did just that and have continued to do it all my life.
But how widely can free-form education serve members of a big, complex, modern, technological society? It works for some. But how many? And what happens to young people whose curiosity is less acute or just different? Are the schools' group socialization to communal life and activity worth the cost in individual development and experimentation? These have, I think, always been the questions of idealistic education reformers, as long as there has been widespread formal education to reform.
I first encountered Tara Westover and her education story in a charming interview with her Cambridge University mentor, the political theorist David Runciman. Highly recommended.
It would be easy to dismiss Westover's Idaho family as simply exotic white rural bumpkins. It would be easy to assume their violent dysfunction came from being Mormons. I'm very grateful to have learned enough over the years to recognize that the human disaster which was her family is largely a consequence of particular male entitlement, ignorance, and mental illness, not location or religion. If the conventions of straight white American society work for you, and you fall into bad luck or poverty, probably the best place to be located in the country is the rural Mormon West. These communities take care -- on their own terms. Being different is something else again. I've known refugees from Mormon communities who could not fit in -- especially violators of gender norms -- who were driven as destructively crazy as Westover's father. For them, the only hope was to get out. It is big world.
Saturday, July 11, 2020
Focus group or perhaps Rorschach test?
Encountered while Walking San Francisco.
Friday, July 10, 2020
Friday cat blogging
She seems to know this is a safe home.
Thursday, July 09, 2020
Certainly the W.H.O. is imperfect. But if humans hope to survive and thrive in the environment humans have made on this planet, we'll have to learn that what Dr. Tedros is saying makes sense -- and that what Donald Trump is doing makes none.
“How difficult is it for humans to unite to fight a common enemy that’s killing people indiscriminately?” [Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director-general,] asked. “Can’t we understand that the divisions and cracks between us are to the advantage of the virus?”
Tedros warned that in most of the world, “the virus is not under control; it’s getting worse.” And he pointed out that the health systems of some of the world’s wealthiest countries have been upended, whereas nations of more modest means have had success.
“This once-in-a-century pandemic has hammered home a critical lesson: When it comes to health, our destinies are intertwined ...”
Demand to be seen!
Wednesday, July 08, 2020
San Francisco's progressive spine
These leaders worked at the mundane tasks of grassroots politics.
Political people ... liked Morrison because she knew the basics of organizing — how to find people to spend a day licking stamps and stapling election fliers, or making sure that gatherings went smoothly with good food and drink close at hand.
“She would tell me at first that when she hit 80, she was going to retire and just go to lunch. That never happened,” [Jennifer] Clary, [president of the environmental group San Francisco Tomorrow] laughed. “She had a stable of volunteers and the most amazing energy. It wasn’t unusual for me to get six to 10 messages in a day when she was putting something together.”
Their example helped San Francisco progressive politics make room for generations of activists who have been willing to do the work, to endure the tedium of endless meetings, to navigate roiling ambitions and not a little self-dealing. Our politicians rise high because area politics are a rough and tumble school -- a school to which a generation of elders added a leaven of principle and practicality. We have been fortunate to have that generation among us; can a city so rich and yet so troubled preserve their progressive legacy?
Tuesday, July 07, 2020
Once upon a time, there was a Kennedy who "advised American families to build bomb shelters to protect them from atomic fallout in the event of a nuclear exchange ..." That dangerous farce was 60 years ago.
Now we have a Republican Kennedy who argues again for bomb shelters.
Pretty stupid argument for his party's President who has abrogated, ended, or broken every agreement restraining nuclear danger that he could get his mitts on: the multilateral agreement with Iran to halt their nuclear bomb development; the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) first signed by Ronald Reagan; and the Open Skies Treaty which allows the U.S. and Russia to fly over each other's territory to verify arms control agreements. And this Kennedy's current president seemingly aims to kill off the New START treaty with Russia which limits how many nuclear missiles each country can deploy.
“Well, the [former] vice president says he will transform America. He will. And the American people will pay a fearsome price. [Biden's] foreign policy is hugs and hot cocoa for America’s enemies. If he’s elected, my advice to you is to build a fallout shelter,” the Louisiana senator exclaimed, prompting [Sean] Hannity to do a double take.
“Build a fallout shelter,” Kennedy reiterated. “You’ll need it. ...”
Fallout shelters never were going to save anyone; the very real Cuban Missile crisis which nearly led to mass annihilation taught that first Kennedy that nukes were nothing to play games with. Of this, as of most everything but gilded gewgaws, this President knows nothing. Arms control treaties bring adversaries together to, at minimum, keep the talk going instead of the shooting. We need more, not less of them. This is something I do trust that Joe Biden knows.