Monday, August 31, 2020

There's still a Census to complete


I met this enthusiastic canvasser in the still-smoky Bayview neighborhood today while making deliveries for the Mission Food Hub. He wasn't having an easy time -- lots of unanswered doors. But he was mighty good humored about it all.

Don't forget to fill out your Census form. Give these workers a break.

So the Orange Cheeto intends to afflict Kenosha further ...

Donald Trump is a weak, terrified man -- a coward who hopes enough of us will kill each other in anger that we'll forget that hundreds of thousands of us are dying from a preventable disease. On his watch. He's never risen to any difficult task in a life of opulent ease and cheating. He's losing among the people, so he flails and incites violence. He knows he can't win a free and fair election. We, collectively, want better.

Even proto-monarchical  presidents have known better. 

Busy today. More later perhaps.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Angela Davis: we have to do the work as if change were possible

With the Trump DC shitshow behind us, protesters killed by a vigilante in Wisconsin, and a violent clash between right wing thugs and activists leading to a death in Portland streets, I have encountered a pervasive hesitation and foreboding among friends in several of our ubiquitous zoom meetings. Certainly these are scary times. And it would be wonderful if we could all just crawl under our beds and the threat would go away. But it won't. The next 65 days til the election and most probably the three months after will be anxious times. That simply is where we find ourselves.

In such times, it seems worthwhile to listen to the reflections of someone who has been through a lifetime of struggle with this country's demons. The filmmaker Ava Duvernay (Selma, 13th, When They See Us) interviewed lifelong justice warrior Angela Davis for Vanity Fair. Her thoughts:

Duvernay: ... How does it feel for a woman born into segregation to see this moment? What lessons have you gleaned about struggle?

That’s a really big question. Perhaps I can answer it by saying that we have to have a kind of optimism. One way or another I’ve been involved in movements from the time I was very, very young, and I can remember that my mother never failed to emphasize that as bad as things were in our segregated world, change was possible. That the world would change. I learned how to live under those circumstances while also inhabiting an imagined world, recognizing that one day things would be different. I’m really fortunate that my mother was an activist who had experience in movements against racism, the movement to defend, for example, the Scottsboro Nine.

I’ve always recognized my own role as an activist as helping to create conditions of possibility for change. And that means to expand and deepen public consciousness of the nature of racism, of heteropatriarchy, pollution of the planet, and their relationship to global capitalism. This is the work that I’ve always done, and I’ve always known that it would make a difference. Not my work as an individual, but my work with communities who have struggled. I believe that this is how the world changes. It always changes as a result of the pressure that masses of people, ordinary people, exert on the existing state of affairs. I feel very fortunate that I am still alive today to witness this.

And I’m so glad that someone like John Lewis was able to experience this and see this before he passed away, because oftentimes we don’t get to actually witness the fruits of our labor. They may materialize, but it may be 50 years later, it may be 100 years later. But I’ve always emphasized that we have to do the work as if change were possible and as if this change were to happen sooner rather than later. It may not; we may not get to witness it. But if we don’t do the work, no one will ever witness it.

My emphasis.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Saturday scenery: mythical monster alert

The centaur is a creature of Greek myth, half-human, half horse. Traditionally, we assume it is male. Sometimes an image of a centaur boasts a beard. After all, the monster is an image of power. Laura Kimpton's 2017 welded metal statue projects another kind of power, still awesome, fearsome -- but beyond gender.

This installation is in San Francisco's new Dogpatch neighborhood. Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Passing the torch

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post passes along a letter from some of the surviving luminaries of the 1963 March on Washington to the leaders of today's Get Your Knee Off My Neck March on the capitol mall. Here's a long excerpt:

We in the Black Freedom Movement of the 1950s and 1960s held countless mass meetings in churches and community halls in Black communities throughout the Jim Crow South. On August 28, 1963, for the first and only time, we gathered before the Lincoln Memorial for a mass meeting on a national scale, joined and witnessed by the entire country. We called this mass meeting “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”. 
We feel obligated to accurately recall the true story of our nonviolent movement to transform our country. We affirm the direct lineage from the Black Freedom Movement of the 20th century, in which we were immersed, and the Black Lives Matter Movement and renewed Poor People’s Campaign of the 21st century which we profoundly admire, and wholeheartedly endorse and support. 
For decades America portrayed the 1963 March on Washington as a symbolic apotheosis of peaceful social change, racial harmony and reconciliation. Yes, the March was a uniquely powerful demonstration of the struggle for racial justice. But this struggle continues, as systemic racial injustice persists 
... On August 28, 1963, we marched to demand enforcement of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by reducing congressional representation from States that disenfranchise citizens. We renew the demand that our Constitution be enforced in the face of widespread voter suppression today. ... 
... Before Dr. King shared his dream of the future, John Lewis demanded that we wake up to the national nightmare of the present. “We must say: ‘Wake up America!'" 
... We applaud and support the urgent work of next generation voting rights defenders and organizers including the M4BL Electoral Justice Project, the Black Voters Matter Fund, and the student activists of the Andrew Goodman Foundation. Together these young leaders are fighting to secure our Constitutional rights and mobilize the vote in Black and other communities of color throughout the United States. We honor them, support them, and follow them. ... 
Today, in 2020, the killings of Tanisha Anderson, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Dominique Clayton, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Eric Reason, Breonna Taylor and countless others demonstrate the tragic reality that Black Americans remain the victim of unspeakable horrors of police brutality. When will it stop? 
... Even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, young BLM leaders achieved results far beyond what Dr. King and the civil rights movement of the 1960s were able to accomplish: bringing somewhere between 15 million to 26 million Americans of all races and generations into the streets for the largest nonviolent protest movement in the history of the United States. 
With admiration and gratitude, we pass [Reverend Martin Luther King's] torch to the activist youth in the Black Lives Matter, March for our Lives, and climate justice movements. 
We know that their marvelous new nonviolent militancy will lead us to the Promised Land. 
Our obligation on this day is to follow their leadership. 
We urge all Americans to join our courageous nonviolent young activists in the hard work of building a just and free society in which we shall overcome.

In this strange year in which a couple of old white men compete for the presidency (and who wins matters desperately), would that all of us from these elder's generation could find it in our hearts to look for leadership in our movement successors. Who could not be thrilled by the intellectual and physical audacity of today's leaders? It's their time.

Friday cat blogging: Janeway tries out a new spot

Such a lovely cat-sized hollow here. 

Perhaps I'll take a bath. That's what they do in this room.

Or maybe I need a nap

Thursday, August 27, 2020

A Biden victory could be a break for Central America

By way of the Central American human rights organization Cristosal comes an extraordinarily optimistic article from Devex,  which bills itself as "the media platform for the global development community." Journalist Teresa Welsh asks "Would Biden 'rebuild the old program' to reduce Northern Triangle migration?"

It seems ages ago now, but as recently as 2016 ,U.S. policy toward Central American migration was at least nominally to try to improve the quality of life in the sending countries so as to encourage desperate people to stay home. That's not to say that our governments haven't historically made life harder for the people of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. We've propped up a long string of dictators and oligarchs in those suffering countries. But in the middle of the last decade, the U.S. did commit funds to healthier development and to supporting domestic human rights movements.

All that disappeared under Trump. U.S. policy today is to indiscriminately deport migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees and pretend these corrupt governments will deal with the reality of hungry people.

Joe Biden promises that he

"will immediately do away with the Trump Administration’s draconian immigration policies and galvanize international action to address the poverty and insecurity driving migrants from the Northern Triangle to the United States. ... The people of the region understand that addressing these challenges in a sustainable way demands systemic change and reforms across many sectors of society in the Northern Triangle–and that sort of change requires a serious investment of political will and resources at every level."
More substantively, he calls for
    •    Developing a comprehensive four-year, $4 billion regional strategy to address factors driving migration from Central America;
    •    Mobilizing private investment in the region;
    •    Improving security and rule of law;
    •    Addressing endemic corruption;
    •    Prioritizing poverty reduction and economic development.
Just words? Maybe. It wouldn't be the first time in the U.S. relationship with these countries. But Central America needs the northern colossus to at the very least pretend to do the right thing.

And according to Welsh, Biden has a good history with Central America in his previous role.

"Biden met multiple times with the presidents of the three countries, traveling to Central America, chairing meetings, and using personal diplomacy to lobby for an agreement that included pledges to reduce the corruption that has long been endemic in the region.

 "The vice president’s personal engagement was key to getting El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to agree to serious reforms, as well as to significant financial contributions of their own, according to Mark Feierstein, who served during the Obama administration as assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development."

Fernando Cutz, who worked in the National Security Council under both Trump and Obama, thinks there's hope for a return to a sensible, even helpful, policy after Trump.
“But … in Central America, I do think that — more than almost any other foreign policy area that I can think of — we probably can, in many ways, just rebuild the old program.”
Central America could use some breaks.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A catalogue of religious deplorables

I've written in the past about how an earnest white evangelical historian sought to understand how his co-religionists could be so enamored of such an ungodly charlatan as Donald Trump. John Fea found fear. Sarah Posner is an investigative journalist who has long explored the intersection of religion and politics; her historical portrait of this catalogue of deplorables is not nearly so charitable.

Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump is a story about the raw hunger for power that animates the leaders of white evangelical Christianity. According to Posner: 

"... as a 'Christian,' Trump was a work in progress. But God had a plan. Trump was a strong leader, a rich man, a successful real estate mogul. Trump might still be a 'baby Christian' in the eyes of some evangelical leaders who decided to back him, but he was nonetheless anointed for this time and place. ... Trump was the strongman the Christian right had long been waiting for. 
"... Trump did not just deliver policy, in a quid pro quo with a voting bloc that fueled his election. He delivered power. ... For the Christian right, Trump is no ordinary politician and no ordinary president. He is anointed, chosen, and sanctified by the movement as a divine leader, sent by God to save America."
White evangelical leaders have spent decades whining among themselves in a self-imposed cultural wilderness, their moral pedestals challenged by the country's fitful and as yet incomplete embrace of racial and gender justice. Even our incomplete progress looked to them like mortal danger to their positions. So they went looking for friends -- and found a lot of unsavory characters. They hooked up comfortably with racist right wing "intellectuals" who glossed bigotry as "conservatism," with direct mail grifters and talkradio shouters, and nowadays with eastern Europe's "illiberal," anti-Semitic, autocrats. They come across as both con artists preying on their sheep and suckers themselves, marks for an array of unethical swindlers. Their partnership with Donald Trump is a perfect match.

Posner's book makes this unappetizing crew more interesting than I would have thought possible (if no more attractive) because there is hardly a major Christian right leader with whom she has not sat down for an amicable professional interview over tea or a lunch. These people are talkers and they've talked to her.

She balances these personal portraits with deep research into the history and web of connections between little magazines with forgettable titles, institutes, think tanks, pseudo-academic foundations and other components of right wing infrastructure that have come together behind Donald Trump. 
It's hard to write about these people without sounding as if you have become a conspiracy theorist: their networks are a roiling mixture of enduring racism and nationalism with ephemeral jealousies and intramural squabbles, all outside the ken of mainstream society. The good people at Political Research Associates struggle with this constantly. Posner does a creditable job of describing this unattractive stew.
And she has a warning: even if we evict Donald Trump in November, these people have dug into positions of power over decades and aren't going away. The impeachment moment early this year only reaffirmed their devotion to their strongman.

"However his presidency ends, the fundamental damage it has inflicted on our democracy will not be healed overnight. His 'base' is not an accident of his unconventional foray into politics, or a quirk of this particular political moment. The vast majority of white evangelicals are all in with Trump because he has given them political power and allowed them to carry out a Christian supremacist agenda, inextricably intertwined with his administration's white nationalist agenda."

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Thoughts (from others) as the GOPers raise up their mad king

This does seem to require explanation. Why are Republicans so willing to rush along like metaphorical lemmings off any cliff toward which the Orange Cheeto points them? It doesn't seem like a good bet, at least for those of them with sane constituents. Yes, some have constituents more rabid than they are; but not all of them.

Jonathan Chait has an intriguing theory:
"Why would the party, and its candidates running for office at every level, define themselves so thoroughly with a president who has never even briefly held the support of half the country? 
"It is probably because Trump is so deeply and historically unpopular that his party has embraced him so tightly. The Republican Party elite harbors quiet doubts about the president’s basic competence, morality, and fitness for office. As a result, Trump feels the need to force them to make public commitments of loyalty, to place their reputations in his hands so that no escape is possible. 
"And they go along to get along. ..."
Or maybe the moral rot is even more insidious. At present, GOPers led by Trump are claiming Democrats dropped the words "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance at their convention. This is BS. There's video evidence this invocation of a Deity was repeated four times, once each day. That is, the Republicans are talking nonsense. Fred Clark thinks he knows why Trump wants Republicans endorsing his fabrication.
This isn’t a lie. He’s not trying to deceive anyone. He’s testing their loyalty by making them choose between him and their own two eyes. This is Trump asking his followers to recite a different kind of Pledge of Allegiance — a loyalty oath to him, personally, above all else, even what they know to be true. He is not trying to misinform them. He is requiring them to prefer loyalty to him above loyalty to information.

This is how contemporary autocratic populists routinely undermine their people's ability to discern what is true. Vladimir Putin's regime is rooted in this strategy, according to historian Timothy Snyder and journalist Peter Pomerantsev.

All this is not say that the Orange Cheeto is a brilliant political strategist. He's not. I think I agree with the Washington Post's Philip Bump that Trump may likely be performing a take-down on himself.

Trump’s campaign strategy in 2016 was to present everything as terrible and himself as the best solution. That meant accepting his unpopularity but emphasizing Clinton’s. It meant casting the country as teetering. 
His strategy now, weirdly, is the same. Attacks on Biden as horrifying and socialist and anarchic and doddering, all at once. Paint a picture of a nation more precarious than the one he criticized four years ago. Yet offer himself, again, as the solution. 
All of this plays into Biden’s framing. ...
The Democratic Convention was designed to remind us that our lives did not have to be in the miserable condition they are. Until Trump came along, unmasking race hate while refusing masks in a pandemic and leaving millions without jobs, the country was imperfect, but it had room for hope, and striving, and community. Heck of a job, Donnie.

Monday, August 24, 2020

One more thing to do to defeat Trump

Looking for an easy, automated way to pass on small amounts of cash to Black led organizations working to get out the vote. Try this?

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Wrong the first time and still wrong now

The LA Times reports: 

The Justice Department will seek to reinstate a death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man who was convicted of carrying out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Atty. Gen. William Barr said Thursday.

... “We will do whatever’s necessary,” Barr said. “We will take it up to the Supreme Court, and we will continue to pursue the death penalty.”

This isn't about a finding of innocence. Tsarnaev is the surviving Boston Marathon bomber; he did it; he's a murderer. But this overturns his death sentence, unless Barr wins a different verdict from a higher court.

The appellate court didn't question the local federal judge's ruling that Tsarnaev could get a fair trial in Boston in 2015 -- although residents of that city had endured being locked in their homes while police chased the killers. The appellate court saw nothing wrong with the trial judge vigorously excluding from the jury anyone who had qualms about the death penalty. (This is considered proper law; such a panel is called "death-qualified.")

No, the decision to throw out the death penalty assessed by the 2015 jury turned on the trial judge's feeble questioning of potential jurors for bias. His inquiries had not been adequate to assess their "impartiality." It turned out the woman who became the jury foreman had called Tsarnaev "a piece of garbage" on social media. And the judge learned that before the trial took place.

So Barr's Justice Department wants to go back to court to be allowed to kill Tsarnaev.

This is crazy. 

The only reason Tsarnaev was tried in a federal court in the first place was that Massachusetts doesn't have a death penalty. Murder is ordinarily tried in state courts. The usual course of action, even for so hideous a crime as the Boston Marathon bombing, would have been to let the state's justice system do its job. 

But Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department thought the Marathon terrorist should die. And didn't think a Boston jury would opt to kill him. Polling at the time of the trial showed that a majority of the people in the region didn't support execution.They don't equate state killing with justice.

A remarkable report in the NY Times at the time of the verdict captured the local sentiment: 

“I was shocked,” said Scott Larson, 47, a records manager who works near the finish line. “The death penalty — for Boston.”

To many, the death sentence almost feels like a blot on the city’s collective consciousness.

 ... Neil Maher, who spent his teenage years in Boston and returned this weekend for his class reunion at Boston College High School, said the verdict had surprised and disappointed him.

“They ought to demonstrate a little humanity,” said Mr. Maher, 66, who lives in Frederick, Md. “Killing a teenager’s not going to do anything. I think it’s just a kind of visceral revenge. I think that in three years, the people of Boston and the people on the jury will feel bad about this decision.”

I am not aware that anyone is polling now to find out. 

New Yorker journalist Masha Gessen wrote a book about the crimes of the Central Asian teenager who became a terrorist. She reminds us:

... “Just to be crystal clear,” [appellate Judge] Thompson wrote, “Dzhokhar will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him.”

Tsarnaev is held in solitary confinement under what are called “special administrative measures,” which include a ban on communicating with anyone whom Tsarnaev didn’t know before he was jailed and in any language other than English. This is, in all likelihood, how he will spend the rest of his life. ...


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Saturday scenery: mailboxes

After a week of intense attention to the US Post Office, I thought I'd share a small sampling of the mailboxes I've run across while Walking San Francisco.

 As is true of many other domestic details, San Franciscans express their creativity through the boxes outside their residences.

Some designs may seem visually transgressive ...

while others are homey ...

others might be considered pretentious ...

or perhaps snobbish?

This being San Francisco, mail receptacles come with messages ...

This, my favorite, is the only image here not from San Francisco, down the road from where we stay on Martha's Vineyard island.

Friday, August 21, 2020

DNC roundup

Barack and Michelle Obama told it like it is. Kamala Kamala'd. We were offered short bits with the primary aspirants who didn't make it -- this reminded me how I enjoyed the early stages of the primary when the herd was trying to show us visions that were new and attractive. And then Joe Biden promised decency ... and caring ... and order ... and competence. And since we're suffering from a complete lack of all those qualities, the speech was surprisingly effective.

But this young man's testimony broke through for me. He stutters. Joe Biden grew up with a stutter and according to 13-year old Brayden Harrington was able to assist and inspire him to speak publicly.
My father shuttered. Mostly, as an adult, he'd learned to avoid triggers. But every once in a while, a gap between his thoughts and his ability to utter them would seem to entrap him. All that would come out of him at those moments were sounds without form. Then he'd get hold and speak what felt a flattened version of what he meant to say. 

I think concern that his disability might take hold made him the frequently remote man he was. 

I like the idea of a president whose life is a support to people with this challenge. It's not everything, but it is something.

Friday cat blogging

Janeway has been enjoying the Democratic National Convention. The broadcast provides hours of opportunity to tangle computer cords and unplug the laptop.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Are we Californians wearing our masks?

The Los Angeles Times decided to take a count:

What they concluded:

"To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, all Californians are required to wear a mask in crowded outdoor spaces. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor under an order issued in June by Gov. Gavin Newsom. ... Most people don’t follow the rules.
"Only 42% of the people we tracked were wearing masks correctly, 10% were wearing masks incorrectly and 47% were not wearing masks at all."

The newspaper shared its tally sheet and invited readers to conduct the same experiment. I spent an hour logging passersby out the front window of my residential San Francisco Mission District block. Here's what I found:

We're doing better than Venice, Long Beach, and Huntington Beach, but probably barely well enough to reduce spread of the coronavirus. I did not replicate the part of the LA Times count that recorded perceived ethnicity and gender, but I noticed no obvious disparities of compliance in my tiny sample. 

The Mission neighborhood is one of the epicenters here; 51 percent of people who've caught COVID in this city are Latinx. The community makes up 15 percent of our total population.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Just wow!

A cabinet shake-up in Canada is making Chrystia Freeland the new finance minister, "the first woman in Canadian history to hold the job federally."
"She has shown competence and capacity in her past portfolios, including foreign affairs, international trade and intergovernmental relations. But what remains to be seen is her plan for managing the pandemic now and recovering from it later — and whether she can get the prime minister to sign on. 
"On Tuesday at a news conference with Trudeau, Freeland noted, “I think all Canadians understand that the restart of our economy needs to be green.” She also pointed out that the economic consequences of the pandemic have been borne disproportionately by women."
Back when the new finance minister was a journalist, she wrote what I consider the most approachable book out there on the horrors of a world economy organized by and for the greedy, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else

Maybe she's been corrupted by deciding to go for political power via the Canadian Liberal Party and Justin Trudeau -- or maybe the pandemic and US withdrawal from the world gives her a chance to go for it. 

Bravo to Canadians!

Is it time for a slightly used politician?

This year's presidential campaign reminds me yet again that California seems to have lived decades ago through much of what the whole country is going through in Trumptime -- and set a model for a relatively graceful escape from a dead end.

During the decade of the 1990s, freak out among the white electorate about losing their majority status in the state led to a series of racist ballot measures -- anything to keep the dark people in their place, even if it deformed California's prized university system, filled the prisons with Black and Latino men, and forced immigrant workers into an exploitative underground economy. Plus the state government was a mess -- hamstrung by anti-tax Republicans and their anti-tax legislative rules. In the beginning of the '00s, we elected a cartoon character, a Terminator named Schwarzenegger, as our governor, because people were just fed up with it all.

Unlike that man occupying our White House today, fortunately, Gov. Arnold proved to have some interest the job he won -- in more than smoking cigars in a tent outside the Capitol. He even did the state a favor by pushing for a nonpartisan redistricting commission. But mostly, gridlock continued and the Great Recession brought the state low.

Enter Jerry Brown in 2010. He was a used governor, having served from 1975 to 1983 beginning as a 37 year old, before reaching his term limit. He stormed back into office in 2011, at 73, and we got another 8 years out of him.

I canvassed a little for Jerry in the northern Central Valley in 2010. I had learned something about the area -- burgeoning bedroom communities for the East Bay -- while working to flip a Congressional seat there to an anti-Iraq war Dem in 2006. By 2010 the new communities were trashed, marked by unfinished housing developments and neighborhoods emptied by foreclosures. There was a Tea Party headquarters and not much else. This was a union canvas, mostly directed at state workers grimly holding on to newly precarious jobs. Those who would talk with us were utterly unenthusiastic about Brown, but I became sure that, if they turned out, they'd vote for Jerry.

Well they did, as did the cities. And it's not crazy to feel that old white guy Jerry was a good governor for a state that needed to get over conflicts which had been amplified by demographic and economic change and lost its way. He fought to enable the state to raise enough tax money to do its job and established a rainy day fund which California is now finding helpful. He was cheap about dribbling the new money out to new programs, but over this tenure parts of the progressive wish list got done including sanctuary legislation for undocumented immigrants, a right to die law for the terminally ill, and continued efforts to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels (though he never banned fracking). He shrank the state prison system by sending low level offenders to local jails.

My friend Tom Ammiano is tough on Jerry Brown's penny-pinching budget choices:
"It's a class thing with him."
Often it was hard to applaud Brown as governor; he frustrated the dreams of his most progressive citizens. Nonetheless, California emerged from its second Brown era less divided and somewhat more just than it had been for decades. Trump's race-bating appeals can't get 30% here. We made the inevitable demographic transition and no "race" or ethnicity is a majority of us. (Now we have to figure out how to curb the plutocrats.)

So might Joe Biden be offering a similar kind of transition leadership to the nation? The two men are personally very dissimilar. Brown is a proud idiosyncratic loner; Biden is a glad-hander (too much so?) well suited to environments which require collective agreement, like the Senate and the Democratic Party. But they both offered anxious constituents unrivaled experience in government. Lots of pols claim experience, but what these guys knew and know is not just puffery.

Brown never lacked for guts, even when bucking his friends. Biden is going to need guts and decisiveness, facing a country trashed by corruption and the pandemic -- in the midst of a reckoning with its heritage of white supremacy, gender inequality, and a baking climate.

One of my favorite journalists, Walter Shapiro, who has been covering Washington pols since 1969 thinks Biden might just have what it takes.
"Biden grasps the necessity for boldness in a crisis—while also intuiting the political risks of going too far too fast."
That just might be a national winning formula for this awful moment, much as something similar was for Brown in California. 

We sure need some formula and it's likely to get worse before it gets better ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

This really is about who lives and who dies

Michelle Obama was the keynote speaker for last night's virtual Democratic Convention. The world seems to agree that she hit the softball which is our unfit pseudo-president out of the park. As we could trust that Michelle Obama would. View her speech here or read the transcript if that's your way.

What got to me was Kristin Urquiza:

"My dad was a healthy 65 year old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump. And for that he paid with his life."


Monday, August 17, 2020

Racist rats recur

Writing in Slate, legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern denounces the cesspool of pseudo-intellectual racism from which the latest birther lies about Senator Kamala Harris' citizenship derive.

Why, then, do outlets like Newsweek and the Washington Post keep publishing articles that promote this lie? A coterie of racists based at the Claremont Institute hope that if they repeat it enough, they can leave the door open for a mass expatriation of second-generation Americans, most of them minorities. Indeed, there are few if any supporters of this falsehood who lack connections to the Claremont Institute. [John] Eastman is a senior fellow at Claremont and the founding director of its Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. Josh Hammer, the Newsweek editor who commissioned the piece, is a former fellow at the institute. Michael Anton, who manipulated the text of a quote from the Senate debate over the 14th Amendment in a Washington Post op-ed to make this lie seem more credible, is a senior fellow there. (Anton may be best known as the author of “The Flight 93 Election,” published in the Claremont Review of Books, which condemned “ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners.”) Claremont “scholar” Edward J. Erler wrote a book arguing that the American-born children of Mexican immigrants have no right to U.S. citizenship, giving the idea greater exposure.

The Claremont Institute masquerades as an intellectual salon of the right, but it is really just a racist fever swamp with deep connections to the conspiratorial alt-right. It even granted a fellowship to Jack Posobiec, who helped promote the notorious Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Claremont’s resident bigots offer deranged fantasies of violently expelling Americans from their home country because of their ethnic backgrounds. Their work deserves the intellectual weight given to that of David Duke and his Nazi-loving fellow travelers.
The Claremont Institute has been at its dirty work for a long time. According to the L.A. Times, it was the breeding ground in 1996 for Prop. 209, California's ban on considering race in state college admissions and state contracting.
The measure began as an exercise by two academics, Glynn Custred and Tom Wood, encouraged by the conservative Claremont Institute think tank.
As a consequence of their ballot measure, the state has been unable to assure that Californians of all races and genders have equal opportunity. 

Presumably these con men will be active again, making up lies, during the fall campaign to pass Prop. 16 which repeal their handiwork. 


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Check your voter registration NOW!

A couple of days ago, in what seemed just a random conversation on Facebook among friends of friends, I suggested that everyone should check whether they were really registered. I didn't expect much reaction -- these were (apparently) employed, tech-functional people, the kind who always vote. Most of them remembered voting in the various state spring primaries.

To my astonishment, and to several of theirs, out of a couple of dozen, two found they were not recorded as registered. Even though they had voted within the last year.

So -- it looks as if everyone who cares about the upcoming election had better check, probably repeatedly until they have their mail-in ballot in hand or have voted in one of the in-person methods, to make sure they are on the rolls.

Voting methods, rules, and procedures are set by each of the states, sometimes with additional variations by county. Fortunately, there are at least two national websites which enable everyone, anywhere, to find out if they are registered. These get their information for the 50 state offices usually called Secretary of State. Try one or the other right now:

If you want more in depth information about state deadlines, such as for registration,  mail-in ballot applications, changes to early voting dates and locations, FiveThirtyEight is doing its best to provide. That link leads to a live map (the picture here is NOT live) where you can click on your state to learn about voting rules.

Looks as if every one of us is going to have to fight voter suppression this year by learning the ropes and spreading the word to everyone we know.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A California take on Joe Biden's selection of Kamala Harris

Don't get me wrong -- I am thrilled to see an accomplished woman who identifies with her Black and Indian American ancestry, who comes from an immigrant family, right at the center of this life-and-death election. I've never been a particular Harris fan, but damn right, I'm happy for what her rise means: Democrats cannot take the changing face of the country for granted. Somehow Dems have to find a way to hold together a majority coalition that is far more complicated and inclusive and far more forthrightly on the side of those who are newly seizing their rightful power. This goes way beyond Obama in 2008.

Once again, many media and pundit reactions reveal ignorance of California. They instinctively describe Harris as "liberal," making reference to her Senate votes. Nonsense. She's a dead center California Democrat. This is what a contemporary Democrat who juggles all our coalition pieces looks like. Donors like her and she knows what to say to those of us who have less money and power. These are baseline requirements for statewide success here.

I suspect some of the pundits of racial preconceptions. Harris is Black. They assume she must be from the left. Nope.

Harris went to college at Howard University, an honorable, formative choice. That woman is sharp -- I feel sure she could have gone to Stanford or UC Berkeley, but she didn't choose to. Interesting.

East Coast-oriented pundits also attribute to Harris a level of electoral savvy and dynamism that I suspect is misplaced. For example, here's Perry Bacon from FiveThirtyEight:

"Harris is a good politician based on these facts alone: She was elected senator in the nation’s most populous state and in a country with a lot of race and gender discrimination ..."
Actually, she barely squeaked through her only tough race (in 2010 for state Attorney General) and otherwise has enjoyed pretty smooth sailing in the contests she has chosen. Her brief exploration of a Presidential bid was sadly disorganized and lacked a galvanizing message.

A Politico profile captures something I find most hopeful in Harris' ascent: she's from a NorCal political background.
“... there’s a reason so many successful statewide elected officials have come out of the Bay Area, and that’s because Bay Area politics is a contact sport,” [Brian] Brokaw said. “San Francisco is not California. Most of the population is Democratic and the fights are between the progressives and the ‘moderates,’ and I say that in quotes. The battles are mostly civil wars, but you have to be able to navigate that sort of dynamic.” ... 
“San Francisco is a tough town for a politician, and to make it through San Francisco, you have to have thick skin and the ability to move forward after disagreements,” said Shawnda Westly, former executive director of the California Democratic Party ...
We toughen up 'em up around here. They learn they have to engage with in-their-face constituents whose backing they may someday need. They sometimes take progressive positions because this is simply the water they swim in -- and when they move up the political ladder, they then carry those positions with them. And they don't entirely shed this positive baggage in the next round. Harris' semi-Medicare for All Maybe in the primary is a perfect example. She knows where the issue is moving; she only learned in the primary process how treacherous health care plans might be outside California.

I liked Ronald Brownstein's observation about the Harris nomination:

... whether Biden wins or loses in November, her nomination may be remembered as a moment when the pinnacle of Democratic Party leadership came to more closely resemble the base of voters that elects it to power. Even as the GOP at every level remains dominated by white men—starting with Trump and Pence—the Democrats haven’t nominated a presidential ticket of two white men since 2004. It’s difficult to imagine when they ever will again.
We don't have to love her -- San Franciscans are hard on our pols. I know there's plenty of bad baggage as well as good baggage. Elections are about winning what you can, not falling in love. And then, getting into position to go back for more.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Friday cat blogging


This charming feline demon who has come to run our household is long. Here Janeway uses her full extension to impede making the bed.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Just retire them

The COVID epidemic is wearing us all out. This morning's headline reads: Nearly 1,500 U.S. coronavirus deaths mark deadliest day of summer. We are still cursed with a president and his regime flailing about, thinking denial can somehow offer him a route to re-election.

What follows is an edited excerpt from a Twitter thread by Andy Slavitt, the Obama-era tech guru and health policy wonk, on the progress of the pandemic and our descent into hell. He's mad and he's right to be. Let's stay mad.
COVID Update August 13: It's long past time our government stopped learning on the job.

We’re 7 months and a lot of learnings into how COVID works & in so many places, every lesson must be relearned. May, June, and July were months spent training southern governors on things they should have learned from April from NY. Confident & ignorant are a bad combination. ...

The governor of TX at first didn’t think masks were needed. Was sure businesses could open. Wouldn’t take input. Then he learned on the job. It took a while so Abbott started to pull back a bit. Things flattened out a little.

But he stopped enforcing mask orders. Ignored the border. Bragged about how well businesses are doing. Now, TX has over 500,000 cases, 1400 deaths this week & almost 10,000 overall, high positive tests, high hospitalizations. Limited access to tests.

Yet he’s gung-ho to open the schools. Why? Because he’s studied the data. Oh I make myself laugh.

Ah, no. Because he’s literal. And he hasn’t seen a problem in a schools yet.

Georgia school districts that opened under order are already closing. 100,000 kids were infected the last weeks of July & studies now show that asymptomatic people shed the virus equally. [Texas Governor] Abbott has to learn himself. ...
Yet in the White House and a number of states eager for quick fixes, they are talking not so quietly about why people don’t need to worry about strong NPIs [nonpharmaceutical interventions] like masks.

Because of this thing they don’t actually understand. ... Policymakers don’t get hired to gamble with our lives. ... The cost of being wrong is high. The benefit is being right is almost none (unless you count bragging on Twitter which is no small thing) ...

People who run for office do it with a variety of motivations. Not enough of them thought through whether they would like to manage a global pandemic on their sure stepping stone to the presidency. Turns out not all can.
Politicians who don’t believe in government are a particular joy in a crisis. ... A belief that government can’t do anything right is #CancelGovernment. Cancel regulations, cut taxes, stop enforcing consumer protections, invest in nothing.

It’s quite a premise to run for office on. But what if you actually have to do something. ... When there’s a situation like a global pandemic and so many aren’t up for the job, I propose letting these leaders out of their jobs. At the first sign of insufficient attention to human life. Or inability to muster a basic response. Maybe when we vote in the future, we’ll put competency, accountability, decency & a commitment to making government work higher on the list.

Working around some of these people is getting old. Retiring them will be better.

There are just 82 days until the election -- and however many anxious days after it will require to enforce the popular repudiation these Republican ghouls are bringing down on themselves. I bet on the sanity of the people. Let's make sure we are heard.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

An appointment

No, not Kamala Harris as Joe Biden's V.P. I'll get to that I'm sure.

Rather, it's seems worth noting that the Trump regime has moved that nasty old cold warrior Elliott Abrams from its project of overthrowing Venezuela's government to its project of overthrowing Iran's government. 

Abrams should feel right at home working with and against Iran. In the late 1980's he was knee deep in the Reagan Administration's illegal plot to trade arms to Iran in return for cash to pay a right wing force to attack Nicaragua's then-leftist elected government. (Confusingly, Nicaragua now has an oppressive regime headed by the same tinpot caudillo, but that was then and this is now and Nicaragua remains on the USA's enemy list.) Abrams was convicted for lying to Congress; this country used to penalize its crooks. The crackpot Iran-Contra scheme was a foreshadowing of the private dealing and grifting that Republicans substitute for government when they get the power to do so.

Jason Rezaian of the Washington Post who knows more than a thing or two about Iran, having been held hostage in Iranian prisons for a couple of years during the Obama administration. He has a conclusion about U.S. policy toward Iran under Trump -- and also some suggestions should the world be so fortunate as to win a Biden administration. 

After decades of punitive measures directed at Iran under the still unfulfilled promise of defanging the Islamic Republic, the Iranian people deserve better from the U.S. government. And so do Americans. ... [Trump's last envoy] managed to play a role in worsening the lives of average Iranians, in part by promoting measures such as indiscriminate economic sanctions and travel bans. ...

If former vice president Joe Biden wins in November, he will have a chance to alter our current collision course with Iran. Biden would inherit a situation in which the United States enjoys significant leverage over Tehran, and he will have foreign policy advisers with years of experience working on these issues. He should take advantage of both, conditioning any concessions on real change that improves the lots of average Iranians. After all the harm we have caused them with nothing positive to show for it, the United States owes that to the Iranian people. ...

Not surprisingly, Rezaian also thinks a better U.S. government could do better at aiding any of our citizens so unfortunate as to be imprisoned in Iran.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Outside our campaigning comfort zone

I have very warm feelings toward Doug Jones, the Democratic Alabama Senator whose surprise election in 2017 proved that Republicans had not completely lost all sense of decency when they flocked to Donald Trump. Jones had an appealing record, having prosecuted and convicted in 2001 two of the white men who bombed Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. He's an all round good guy and voters preferred him to a wacko racist and accused pedophile. Nobody (except maybe Jones' campaign) thinks deep red Alabama is likely to re-elect Jones in November; partisanship is too powerful for Alabama white voters. But Jones' campaign is taking a bold tack as he tries to hang on. He's accusing his opponent, college football coach Tommy Tuberville, of caring more for Donald Trump than for the citizens of the state. Take a look at this ad:
Jones aims straight at Republican threats to health care access and Social Security, as most Democrats do. But he also, probably accurately, accuses his opponent of running to be a Trump suck-up. It's a bold move when most Republicans including Tuberville have competed to win primaries by demonstrating how submissive they can be to the Orange Cheato. 
Also outside campaign norms, In These Times reports on intriguing experiments with canvassing in rural North Carolina where preserving Confederate monuments and resisting a feared immigrant invasion are common sentiments. Local organizing groups think they've found a way to train canvassers to have deep conversations that can reach conservative voters. Their contacts find themselves cross-pressured between fear of the unfamiliar and attachment to humane values. 
“We need to specifically talk about race and class,” said Danny Timpona, an organizer with Down Home North Carolina. “The Democratic Party might talk about class or they might talk about race, but they’re not talking about both of these things and how they pull at each other. We’re specifically pointing it out. We’re naming that this is a weapon that is economically harming us, and that the alternative, the antidote, is multiracial solidarity.” ...
“What we find with the majority of voters is they’re conflicted,” [Adam] Kruggel [from People's Action] said. “People carry all these contradictory beliefs. Often times, it’s more a matter of what is rising to the surface than a conflict in shared values. Deep canvassing helps slow people down. When you communicate, you create nonjudgmental space and lead with listening. You communicate through stories. It’s an effective way to de-polarize, to a certain extent.”

I'm always a little skeptical when social scientists and professional organizers claim to have come up with new techniques which will enable canvassers to make major inroads with otherwise antagonistic people. I understand that we'd all like to reduce how to carry on a successful persuasion campaign to a formula that could be taught. And we often give our magic bullet a very serious label like "deep canvassing" or “the “Race-Class Narrative.” Such claims probably play well with donors. 

But the struggle to make door-knocking effective will always be tough. Some people who do it take to it. Training can make these naturals better, pointing them toward techniques to have more effective conversations. But scaling up to produce multitudes of canvassers who lack a preexisting sympathetic gift-for-gab is not formulaic. Campaigns keep trying.

The In These Times story is nonetheless interesting.

Monday, August 10, 2020

A San Francisco treat

Tom Ammiano has given us a memoir -- titled, of course, Kiss My Gay Ass. It's perfectly wonderful; you should read it; and as far as I can figure out, the only way to obtain a copy is through that link.

Ammiano is the flaming queen who carried assassinated Supervisor Harvey Milk's gay liberation cause right up through the stuffy auditoriums of the San Francisco School Board (1990-1993), on to the Beaux-Arts corridors of San Francisco City Hall (1994-2008), and finally into the corrupt precincts of the California State Assembly (2008-2014). And never has he retreated from his allegiance to class-conscious equality for people of all races, sexual inclinations, and gender identities.

His own liberation movement put Ammiano on track to storm the halls of power -- but his memoir makes clear that performing stand-up comedy might have been his true love. The quick quip was his defense while growing up in a very hostile world for a gay man -- he writes that he "weaponized it to protect me from bullies." Later he honed his comedy as as school teacher and in comedy clubs. Whatever his credentials, the San Francisco establishment of the 1980s would have recoiled at the prospect of a gay teacher running for school board, but his comedy career was a particular target of scorn from the newspapers.
"... comedy was used against me as a weapon. But I felt like, without really articulating it, there was no reason I could not do both those things: comedy and politics. I really loved comedy. Who wrote the rules that say you have to choose?"
As a legislator, Ammiano assembled a majority of the Supervisors (that legislative body would be a city council if the City were not a county) to pass Healthy San Francisco which extended health coverage to all residents in 2007. He led passage of protections for LGBT+ civil rights in both San Francisco and Sacramento. He fought for legalizing marijuana before that notion was cool. He repeatedly sought to revise California's tax-limiting measure Prop. 13 so that big business had to pay its fair share. (That one is coming back at us this November as Prop. 15.) Ammiano has been there for every progressive effort of his generation.

Gay people of Ammiano's generation, with rare upper class exceptions, never trusted that the policeman was our friend. Calling the cops after a gay bashing might just get the victim bashed again. So when Ammiano won his seat among the city Supervisors who have some say over the police department, he found himself in a contradictory position.
"Ironically, the Police Officers Association had endorsed me in my race for Supervisor! All they asked me about was my support for unions issues and I was strongly pro-union. They didn't ask anything about policing rules or independent investigations of police shootings.

"... There was a lot of shit I had to deal with about the police. A lot of the officers were white cops who didn't live in San Francisco. ... There were a lot of raids of gay bars. They would say "you're overcrowded" as an excuse, shit like that.

"... Soon after I was elected, there were a number of police shootings in the black community. I remember going out to the community and standing and holding hands with black ministers about the shooting of some kid by the police. ... Then the cops raided an AIDS fundraiser. ... When they raided it, the cops covered their name tags so they could beat people, that was common practice.

"... I took fixing the Office of Citizen Complaints up as my cause ..."
For all Ammiano's efforts, although the SFPD may have achieved some hiring "diversity," its union still seems committed to viewing law enforcement as an occupying army restraining uppity dark skinned people and other transgressives. The struggle goes on.

Ammiano thinks of himself as a "lefty." I might substitute "radical" in this summation of what's he's learned about keeping the faith inside the halls of power:
"... It has always been [a] struggle to come from the lefty point of view in any movement. There will always be moderate people. There will always be people who sell out. There will always be people on the fence. Then there will be people who push the envelope because it's more than about just one issue or one thing -- it's about a movement."

Movement makers are precious people. Ammiano is a San Francisco gem.

Full disclosure: yes, he's a friend. A guy like this is a lot of people's friend.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Out and about in shutdown San Francisco

Imagine my delight when Walking San Francisco last weekend to come upon this:
These friends were having a great time on an obscure block in the Oceanview neighborhood. (Oddity: there is no ocean view.)
For the most part, the musicians practiced what they preached.
With one exception. 
The audience kept well back, enjoying the music and the day.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Prediction: health care will again move to center in the election

Remember the seemingly endless Democratic presidential primary season that ended with Joe Biden suddenly wiping out all the others? Probably not. Between COVID-19 and the filmed murder of George Floyd, most feeling people have had so much run over us that the memory is indistinct.

But at least one development of the last week should remind of us of what that long intraparty squabble was ostensibly about. Presidential aspirants argued and proposed and postured for months about how they would ensure everybody had access to health care. Today millions of people are out of work in a country that ties access to medical services to having a job -- in the midst of a pandemic. And it looks like voters do still care, even in states that seem less than obvious.

Dylan Scott at Vox surveyed social scientists about a recent, seemingly unlikely, development:

"For the second time this summer, voters in a solidly Republican state have decided now is the moment to expand Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

"Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid during Tuesday’s primary elections; 53 percent of voters supported the measure and 47 percent opposed it. That vote comes about a month after Oklahoma voters also decided to expand Medicaid via ballot referendum by less than 1 percentage point. 
"... Crises have a way of changing political attitudes. ... right now, disapproval of the Affordable Care Act is at a low ebb, with just 36 percent of Americans saying they have an unfavorable view of the law in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s July 2020 poll.  
"It is too soon to say whether any shift in the public’s policy preferences will be permanent. But we shouldn’t be surprised if a crisis as disruptive as the coronavirus pandemic leaves a long-lasting mark on our politics."
In the Los Angeles Times, David Lauter points out the advantage which Democrats gain by responding to the public's health care fears and hopes.
"Democrats have learned over the past decade that complex efforts at market-based solutions to expanding healthcare, like the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized marketplaces for low- and middle-income families who lack job-based coverage, don’t work politically on two levels: They fail to win over the Republicans they were designed to attract and they aren’t as popular with voters as straightforward expansions of public programs. 
"Biden opposes Medicare for All, but if he wins in November, some form of Medicaid for Many — a public option built around further expansion of the program — will likely form a key part of his administration’s program. 
"... if the spread of the virus slows, which President Trump‘s campaign strategists hope will allow him to start a comeback, he will still face a host of issues on which he was vulnerable long before the pandemic began. His efforts to repeal healthcare coverage for millions of Americans remain high on the list."

This is not the terrain on which Donald Trump wants to fight this election. He'll try to distract. He'll promise a “tremendous healthcare plan,” as he did just two weeks ago, a fantasy solution. He'll claim to protect people with pre-existing conditions, such as having been infected by COVID -- but legislators of his party has voted to repeal these protections over and over. And Trump supports a lawsuit to kill off all of Obamacare. Trump's magic health care fix will never happen. 

If Dems are smart, they'll keep hammering on a promise to make certain all of us can go to doctors. People need and want assurance of health care access; the virus keeps the need fresh in our minds.

It's on all of us to make sure Trump does not escape his failures -- his failure against the coronavirus, his failure to deliver on delusional promises.