Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Called to our moment

I don't think I want to bother commenting on the debate. Nothing new there except some inkling that Biden knows a thing or two about climate crisis. 

So I offer this instead:

Entirely too much masculine patriotic bluster for my taste. But Sully is right: this is our moment to stand for democracy and against violent white nationalism and authoritarian rule. 

And then, after we "vote him out," we have a lot more to do. But that's another day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Taxing questions

So now we know what he was hiding. Some of it, anyway. The missing piece remains who Trump owes all that money to. 

Some Russian gangster and dependent of Putin, perhaps? Or some oil monarch? No one who wasn't also a crook would have lent him money. Those people play rough sometimes. Just look at Navalny or Khashoggi.

Will once "respectable" administration flunkies want to go along for the plunge with this guy, who not only is personally immoral and cruel, but also a monumental failure at the game they think is reality? Looking at you, Bill Barr. This isn't about your beloved vision of a monarchical executive -- the man you work for is just a bankrupt swindler.

As Paul Krugman points out, when failure cascades on failure, the incentive for bankrupt businessmen is to strip their companies of anything of value to give themselves a personal cushy landing. There's no doubt that Trump's play. He was willing to kill hundreds of thousands of us by ignoring a pandemic in a bad bet on re-election. What more lies ahead?

And then, should we believe that we are seeing the flailing of a frightened man who, accurately, fears prosecution when he no longer has the protection of the office of the Presidency? So it seems.

Trump seems such a small man to have been able to wreak such havoc on a powerful, reasonably functional -- if habitually unjust -- country. It's on us if we let him continue.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Flavors of corruption

In the Trump era, one of the most common terms in political writing is some variation of "corrupt" or "corruption." I've been jarred by a sense that there are multiple meanings behind this powerful word and concept and that we're not necessarily aware that every usage is not quite the same as the last one. Maybe this doesn't bother others as it does me, but I decided to explore it here.

Some examples, some thoughts, and some recourse to very basic dictionary definitions of "corrupt" and "corruption" follow:

Mike Pompeo, still implicated in Trump's impeachable acts, doesn't care if you know he's corrupt
"Prior to ex-House Republican Mike Pompeo becoming Trump's secretary of state, it was generally understood that U.S. secretaries of state were not allowed to use the tools of their office for rank partisan politicking. Using government resources to campaign is illegal; turning the top diplomatic job in the country into a tool of partisanship damages U.S. credibility abroad by signaling, to world counterparts, that the U.S. diplomat is In This For Themselves." This usage conforms to the very first, common, definition: "to destroy the integrity of; cause to be dishonest, disloyal, etc., especially by bribery."

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne: "... corruption is a dagger aimed at republican government. It turns what is supposed to be an institution devoted to the common good into an instrument of private gain." This usage goes to corruption of wider scale than individual crimes, pointing to systemic institutional harm such as "dishonest practices, as bribery; lacking integrity; crooked."

Reporter Josh Kovensky describing a legal argument: "The Justice Department’s move to drop charges against Michael Flynn 'reflects a corrupt and politically motivated favor unworthy of our justice system,' the court-appointed attorney arguing against the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss stated in a Friday filing." I don't know if "corrupt" has a precise meaning in law, but here the word seems to indicate "debased in character; depraved; perverted."

7 ways Trump and his cabal are using government to corrupt the election
"Trump isn’t trying to persuade a majority of U.S. voters to support him. Instead, he’s trying to get within what you might call cheating distance of pulling another electoral college inside straight even while losing the popular vote, just like last time. He’s not there yet. But many top Trump officials and congressional allies have placed their official duties and the levers of your government at the disposal of Trump’s reelection effort, which depends on closing that gap." This usage comes nearest to "mar; spoil."

Peter Wehner at the Atlantic: "But what’s different in this case is that Trump, because of the corruption that seems to pervade every area of his life and his damaged psychological and emotional state, has shown us just how much people will accept in their leaders as a result of 'negative partisanship,' the force that binds parties together less in common purpose than in opposition to a shared opponent." Here the writer is telling us there is something broken about Trump, something about him that amounts to "debasement or alteration."

Former National Security aide Alexander Vindman: "So Trump was putting the squeeze on this leader [the Ukrainian president] to conduct a corrupt investigation." This is a usage I find confusing. There is self evidently, to me if not to Republicans, something very wrong with a president using the powers of the country to extort a political favor from a foreign leader. But the closest I can come to applying any of the definitions of corruption to this act is simply "dishonest" because, in truth, there was not an honest predicate for what he was asking. And Trump either has no moral compass or he knew that.

Peter Beinart writing about the Republican base: "This isn’t because they don’t care about corruption. It’s because of the way they define the term: less as the violation of America’s laws than as the violation of America’s traditional hierarchies. Thus, so long as Trump promotes “Republican values,” he can’t be corrupt. ...  etymologically, [corruption] is also linked to contamination, debasement, and impurity. And throughout American history, Americans have often labeled as “corrupt” people who undermined not the rule of law but the preexisting racial or gender order. ... That racialized definition of corruption remains very much alive today. Consider the presidency of Barack Obama. Obama’s supporters look back on his presidency as admirably scandal-free. But to many Republicans, Obama personified corruption. After all, a majority of Republicans, as late as 2017, told pollsters they believed that Obama had been born outside the United States." We're getting into deep human psychic strata here. When our species was more intimate with the reality of death than we are in modern societies, "corruption" was above all what happened to our bodies when we died. (See also Psalm 16:10 per the King James Bible: For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.) Corruption evoked worms and maggots. This lingers in modern dictionary definitions as "putrefactive decay; rottenness."

"In a 2018 White House planning meeting ..., Trump asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees. 'Nobody wants to see that,' he said." Though he doesn't use the word, Trump seems to be moved by a revulsion at the presence of defiling impurity. In the dictionary's terms, this is the corruption that is "putrefactive decay; rottenness." Most of us might call wounded vets something like those who gave their best -- but to Trump's psyche, their bodies are corrupt.

ProPublica reporter Dara Lind on the Weeds offered her understanding of how Trump's corruption set the parameters of his disastrous coronavirus response, prioritizing the needs of red states. She contended (with plenty of evidence) that for Trump and the Republican Party. "it is a function of government to provide favors to people who put it in office." Here we're back to the deep corruption by which particular corrupt decisions pollute a society. As the dictionary puts it: this is "perverted; wicked; evil: a corrupt society."

• • •

Some of the deepest, most subtle insights about corruption I've encountered anywhere are in Sarah Chayes' Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. My write up here. Her observations derive from unhappy experience with Afghanistan's kleptocracy. We aren't quite in that condition yet, though a second Trump term might get us there.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The right that makes all other struggles possible

Need a little inspiration to get you through the remaining 38 days until Election Day? I can't promise it will be all over November 3, but we all can feel that getting there will be a slog. We need all the uplift we can find. And I sure hope you are doing all you can now to save your democracy now.

In the meantime, from Amazon, I want to recommend All In: The Fight for Democracy streaming on Amazon Prime.

You already know the plot: COVID denier Brian Kemp steals the 2018 governor's race from Stacey Abrams by suppressing the votes of Black people, Latinx people, Asian-origin people, young people, and poor people. It should be just a bummer. But the film embeds Stacey's story in the much longer and wider history of oppressed citizens struggling for their right to be heard. And that's not sad at all -- we who believe in freedom just keep coming back again and again.

Some choice quotes from the movie: 

Stacey Abrams: The fundamental power in a democracy lies in the right to vote. And if you protect that right, you provide possibilities for everything else.

Historian Carol Anderson: The reason the vote is contested is because the vote matters.

Stacey Abrams: When elected officials feel they may not have the power anymore, they have two choices. They can either be more responsive to the people they lead or they can eliminate the people they have to answer to.

Alejandra Gomez from the community organization Lucha in Phoenix: the most important part of voter registration is human connection and being able to understand why that person does not trust.

Carol Anderson: Barack Obama scared the be-jeebers out of them ... He brought 15 million new voters to the polls.

Stacey Abrams: stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people.

Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice: It's not going to be the courts that save us. It's not going to be the justices in their robes. It's got to be the people.

Terence Floyd, father of murdered George Floyd: Let's stop thinking that our voice don't matter. And vote! Educate yourself and know who you are voting for. Because there's a lot of us. There's a lot of us. There's a lot of us.

Yes, there are a lot of us.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Mission delights

I was appreciative and bemused to discover that someone had enlisted the tree in front of our house for a creative project:

Not perhaps great art, but a happy thought in this time when we can't get near each other.

Down the street, another offering:

The back of one of the hearts offered an explanation:

Love my neighborhood.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Friday cat blogging

Yes, there are birds out there. No, you can't go out to chase them. ... No... just no!

That's right. Settle in on your bed. 

Life with the young hunter sometimes tires both of us.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

City response to COVID is not alright

When the coronavirus first emerged among us, it would have felt churlish to berate over-burdened public health bureaucracies for their errors and omissions. But it has been six months now. Lydia Chavez and Hayden Manseau of Mission Local have looked into what we can all sense about San Francisco's neglect of the Mission neighborhood. Their reporting is judicious, intelligent, and scathing,

... fuzzy math [is] being deployed to measure how the city is doing in its battle against Covid-19. The city’s seven-day average case rate for the week of Sept. 7 per was 6.8 per 100,000 residents. ... The city’s seven-day average case rate for the same week in September was 2.3 for white residents, 4.71 for Asian Americans, 6.5 for Blacks and 16.4 for Latinx ... In a transmissible virus, researchers said, it’s dangerous to allow the impact on segments of the population to be diluted by tossing them in with everyone else. Those harder-to-reach but persistent cases become all the more important to stop the spread of the virus.

... The numbers the city publishes to keep the city informed on how we are doing paint an overly optimistic picture. But perhaps worse is that the city’s strategy to rid San Francisco of Covid-19 appears to be less urgent in the communities that it knows are high risk.  That model leaves everyone vulnerable. 
There's some good news amid the criticism.
... San Francisco has had a remarkably low death rate, but here too, the racial disparities are apparent: Of the 99 Covid-19 deaths, Asians comprise 31 percent of the deaths, compared to their 34 percent of the population; Latinx, 27 percent, compared to their 15 percent of the population; Whites, 17 percent, compared to their 40 percent of the population; and Blacks, 8 percent, compared to their 5 percent of the population.

Because the death rate has been so low, the city has been able to focus on cases, but testing has not been aimed at the most impacted populations.
The powers-that-be have excuses for their omissions.
... Resources are still limited but, as the Health Department likes to point out, San Francisco now tests more than most cities. Most of those tests are done at the city’s SoMa and Embarcadero testing sites, where the positivity rates are at 1 to 2 percent, according to sources. ...The sites are available by appointment only and easily accessible if you have a car. Both are also accessible by public transportation, but that requires extra time 
... Stefan Baral, a Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist, said that testing sites around the country are “set up for those who can take a few hours off from work compared to the people who are more shift workers.” This testing approach disadvantages people who are carrying the greatest burden during lockdown, he added. 
... Covid strategies across the country, said Baral ... “focus on the protection of the wealthy.”
The experts consulted by Mission Local think the city's future with the pandemic looks threatening.
Despite the solid citywide average, pandemic fatigue and a sagging economy, San Francisco cannot let its guard down, epidemiologists say.  
“If we are seeing an overrepresentation of cases in one group, the logical next step is to tailor interventions to match that need,” said [Tomi] Akinyemiju, [a professor in Population Health Studies at Duke University specializing in epidemiologic methods.] 
Akinyemiju envisions what will happen without such tailored interventions: “Cases will continue to spread in those groups, the healthcare system will be taxed because many individuals in the most impacted groups don’t have access to healthcare, and we will continue to see Covid transmission throughout the city.”
The Mission neighborhood and the city of San Francisco are extraordinarily fortunate to have Mission Local producing quality local journalism in this time of media contraction. If you care about knowing about the 'hood, throw them some cash!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Even the past is against him ...

Donald Trump demands a "patriotic" history. This unfathomably ignorant man has apparently been told that there was an influential U.S. historian, the late Howard Zinn, who probably wouldn't think much of him. Zinn's A People’s History of the United States tells our country's story through the lives and struggles of ordinary people, our triumphs as well as the conniving plots and plans of the greedy and the powerful. Zinn had a vision of this country improving itself, making itself better for all. Trump wants a country whose highest purpose is the aggrandizement of himself, his family, and his cronies. Such a small man.

Some of what Zinn wrote can read as a secular American sermon on building the godly Kingdom.

“TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

"What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

"And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Zinn's work is influential. High school and college classes read the People's History. Trump doesn't read, so we can assume this is just something else that he doesn't know.

In a tribute to Zinn, Peter Dreier, a professor of Politics at Occidental College, catches what most likely unnerves Trump. His insecure ego has concerns beyond being ejected by the electorate this fall.
Trump, of course, has good reason to worry about how scholars write about American history, because historians will be soon be evaluating his presidency. Trump will be lucky to avoid a rare consensus among historians, ranking him as America’s worst president.

Photo is of Zinn speaking at a Historians Against the War meeting in 2006.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Another Year of the Woman has snuck up on us

David Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College, points out something the fevered presidential campaign and the battle over the Supreme Court is obscuring: the next Congress is already primed to include more women than the last. 

A record number of women sought public office in 2018, and a record number were elected to Congress.

Though it hasn't received the same degree of notice this time around, the records broken in 2018 will be broken again this year. With yesterday's Delaware primary election marking the end of the congressional nomination season, the numbers are now available to make full historical comparisons. Among Democrats, 48 percent of all House nominees in 2020 are women, exceeding the all-time high of 42 percent set in 2018. And for the first time in history, a majority (58 percent) of non-incumbent Democratic nominees are women.

An even bigger change has happened on the Republican side this year. The mobilization of women was a single-party phenomenon last election, but now it's become bipartisan. The share of female Republican House nominees grew from 13 percent to 23 percent between 2018 and 2020, and the share of women among non-incumbent nominees surged from 18 percent to 33 percent—not only easily outpacing any previous election for Republicans, but even exceeding the Democratic rate in every year before 2018.

Most of these women probably will not win their elections; most non-incumbents lose, even in times of great turmoil. But almost certainly there will be more women in the House in 2021.


So it's interesting to look at ads from a couple of these women:

Dr Hiral Tipirneni is running for an Arizona seat currently occupied by a Republican who was recently found guilty of ethics violations including using Congressional staff to pay for his personal expenses like first class flight upgrades, dry cleaning and expensive dinners and also to babysit his children. He then lied on finance reports. 

Sima Ladjevardian, an attorney, breast cancer survivor, and activist, is seeking a Houston, TX seat. 

I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg would smile to see them in the arena.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Stop with the whining ...

Maybe if I were a better Christian I would forgo offering this take -- but after mulling it over, I'm not that good.

The Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco and some of his flock are acting like whining cry babies over being barred by secular authorities from holding super-spreader events in their churches. I too am a eucharistic Christian -- I believe I am fed in the spirit when I partake in the communal meal that mysteriously is Jesus' body and blood offered to the gathered faithful (and even the merely confused). Communion is good for my soul. I miss not being able to have it during this pandemic time.

But I am also an adult Christian. I believe we are called to live not just for ourselves, and for our own desires, but for all the people among whom we live. And the scientists tell us that indoor church is probably a uniquely dangerous environment for this infectious disease -- people come close together for extended periods, they pray aloud, they sing -- all risks. And then they take their risks home to those they live with. Bars may be worse, but church is bad.

I'm not saying that churches are always called to bow to the dictates of secular authorities. Far from it. Faith may require resistance rooted in conscience on a range of matters. But I do not understand weighing postponement of communal practice which conflicts with public health among the deep issues of that should stir conscience. I worry far more about kids in cages and the federal government's renewed rush to carry out executions.  

I understand the archbishop feels put upon, planted here to serve in a city that is oblivious to his high opinion of the authority invested in him by his church. Even most Roman Catholics don't look to clerics to govern their consciences.

I think our Congresscritter, that faithful Roman Catholic Nancy Pelosi, said it best:

“I believe that science is an answer to our prayers,” Pelosi said. “It is a creation of God and one that is an answer to our prayers.”
In God's good time, assisted by our best human efforts against the virus, churches will fully reopen. Meanwhile, Mr. Archbishop, deal with the terrain set before you.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Meeting disengaged voters on the phones

These days, I'm calling voters in Nevada for Joe Biden along with members of the hotel workers union. (You can too -- just give me a holler and I'll connect you.) As always, actual voter contact is a good remedy for all sorts of misconceptions and preconceptions. It's also sometimes oddly comforting about the values of my fellow citizens. In these pandemic days, a great many more people than I'm used to will actually talk about their anxieties (massive) and their dreams (often quite submerged by their anxieties) for their country and for their kids. If you have the generosity and patience to talk with, not at, these voters, you can learn a lot about what moves this country.

Nevada voters are a particular breed. Sure, there are some highly aware, long-time, Nevada political partisans, like anywhere else. But that's not who we're calling. We're calling much more the ordinary citizens who don't live and breathe politics, who are part of the most transient state population anywhere, who are often unemployed. The hotel and gambling industries have been crushed by the pandemic. Nevada's 13.2 percent unemployment is more than 4 points higher than the national figure. These are often less consistent voters and often new voters.

Aside from a few Trump partisans -- who hang up quickly -- these people don't need to be convinced there is something wrong with Donald Trump's presidency. Between COVID and job losses all around them, they are done with him. But Joe Biden might as well be a ghost to them. Most of them simply know nothing about him.

For these folks to become reliable voters, they need to think through what they are voting for. Phone conversations can help that happen. And we, the callers, need to know how to talk with them about Joe Biden.

Jon Favreau and Ben Greenfield at Pod Save America have just reported on a battleground state poll that captures exactly what I've experienced. My calls seem quite similar; that's not surprising since the Trump team is treating Nevada as a state they can steal from the Dems.

The polling confirms that Trump is going to have a hard time putting across an "October surprise" that justifies re-election. Even these disengaged people don't believe anything that comes from him, including in a magic vaccine.

But Biden draws a blank:

We asked voters an open-ended question, what they’ve heard recently about Donald Trump and Joe Biden. For Biden, the top response was “nothing” (11%) – most of the other responses were about his public appearances or were criticisms of Biden.
If we want to help Biden (and ourselves) win, we have to get out the messages that can turn a resigned voter into a determined voter. Here are some suggestions that polled well with people like the ones I chat with; these are by and large very practical people.
"Donald Trump wants to eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions and take away health insurance for 20 million Americans in the middle of a pandemic. Joe Biden wants to give everyone the choice to enroll in a Medicare-like insurance plan, make sure no American pays more than 8.5 percent of their income on premiums, and bring down the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies."
Yes, this election is still about access to healthcare -- after all, we're under assault by a deadly virus at moment when President Trump is working to kill Obamacare through the courts.

And furthermore:
"Donald Trump says the economy is great because the stock market is up, and he wants to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in order to fund more tax cuts for the rich. Joe Biden says a strong economy depends on a strong middle class, and wants only the wealthiest 1 percent to pay higher taxes so we can expand health coverage, invest in clean energy and infrastructure, and create 5 million manufacturing and technology jobs."
You may feel like you know all this -- but there are millions of voters who don't. Dan Pfeiffer's summary of the research rings true to me:
Forty-one percent of the undecided universe have no opinion on Joe Biden, which is a truly stunning finding in a highly polarized nation for a politician that has been on the national stage for decades. Opinions about Trump are locked in. ...
If these folks can be convinced there is a reason to vote at all, they are going to vote for Biden. In this situation, making contact with them has to help them work through for themselves what they might want from a different President and provide some assurance that Joe Biden will provide at least some of it. This isn't rocket science. It's human conversations.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Chronicle of plague time's new normal

Getting our flu shots is even more vital than usual this year. Think how awful it would be, for the individual and for the medical system, if we were to catch both COVID and the flu. Yesterday I joined that ubiquitous feature of pandemic times, the socially distanced line. My health care provider, Kaiser Permanente, is good at herding us all through our annual pinprick. We were sorted into separate lines outside the door -- flu shots, coronavirus testing, and regular medical appointments.

It was only a 10 minute wait to get to the women giving the shots. I suggested I should receive the geezer doze -- the enhanced shot for elders. "Sorry," she said. People were so eager to get their shots this year that Kaiser ran out of the elder doses the first day they opened, last Monday. That's good I guess. Let's hope this particular iteration of the flu shot is a potent defense.

Then I charged off to one of the handful of library branches finally partially reopened. Since mid-March, I'd been unable to return the stack of books I had checked out when we shut down -- or pick up new volumes on which I'd asked online for holds. Then the fires made the air so awful that librarians couldn't be asked to stand in it, so branches didn't open for even take out. (That's a lot better than it was for the garbage collectors, postal workers and many delivery people ...) But yesterday they were up and running.

Sidewalk library service to go, available here. If you can work the system.

Friday, September 18, 2020

The great task remaining before us ...

The phrases that come to mind with the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion ... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (Gettysburg Address)

Women are not usually thought to have given their lives for their country. That's what men do, marching off to battlefields. Or what John Lewis did, marching into flailing white supremacist batons. 

But RBG did it her way, giving her life in the hope of preserving the rule of law and winning equality for women. 

Her long fight is our fight now. Are we ready?

A small rant in response to dopey punditry

Sometimes a piece of political punditry is just space-filler masquerading as analysis. The "researchers" who produced this foolishness should be ashamed of themselves. If the premise of a study is nonsense, it doesn't matter how many accurate tidbits of data you throw into it. It's still junk.

I'm referring here to More And More Americans Aren’t Religious. Why Are Democrats Ignoring These Voters? from FiveThirtyEight.

The premise, like the headline, is:

 "Democrats are mostly ignoring a massive group of voters who are becoming an increasingly crucial part of their base: people who don’t have any religion at all."

In most systems, click to enlarge.
When you look at the accompanying chart, it shows that citizens who don't have a religious affiliation tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats -- as do pretty much all identifiable religious groups, except white Christians. A glance at the numbers might suggest that it is some combination of Christianity and whiteness which predicts party affiliation.

Of course the Democratic Party speaks to religiously unaffiliated people all the time: its policy proposals emphasize non-sectarian, broadly neutral values such as freedom of conscience, community care for the weak and needy, and welcome to the stranger. Its answer to appeals to particular religious beliefs is broad tolerance and inclusiveness of difference. And, as this article's authors understand, lots of citizens find that "live and let live" while caring for the community is downright attractive.

What makes the religiously unaffiliated different from many others is that most don't self-identify as a distinct group. That's where the premise of this article is bonkers. Only where religious authorities have enough power to impose their particular values on people's daily lives -- say by refusing to provide contraception to women who think of it as just another medical intervention -- do the unaffiliated come to think of themselves as distinct from the whole.

The author of this research seems to think that "secular voters" -- the religiously unaffiliated who aren't militant atheists, itself sort of a faith -- should learn to see themselves "as a bloc." And that the Democrats should encourage them to adopt a distinct group identity.

“What you have on the right with white evangelical Protestants is a distinct group that can be courted and discussed. The left hasn’t figured out how to do that with nonreligious voters. But we could see more efforts in that direction going forward.”
I sure hope religiously unaffiliated people resist this call to mindless political polarization. I'm all for forthright competition between different values, also for peaceful, non-coercive argument -- and often in a democracy, simply an agreement to disagree. But we don't need more and better warring camps.

Insofar as most unaffiliated people don't identify themselves as yet another combative group, that's a good thing, not something to be "fixed."

Friday cat blogging

The printer torments Janeway. It makes clicking sounds, the rollers grumble, paper emerges. But where's the animal making the sounds? Something alive must be in there.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Don't ignore what Donald says on Social Security and Medicare

The gushing fire hose of Trump's bluster and stupidity makes it hard to catch every lunatic notion he throws out. We've all learned not to be sure he even knows what he is saying -- or could understand it if he did.

But his recent attacks on the funding arrangements for Social Security and Medicare deserve our full attention. Here's Michael Tomasky explaining what you could easily have missed since it seems absolutely unthinkable [my emphasis]: 

Trump not long ago called for permanent elimination of the payroll tax. The payroll tax of course funds both Social Security and Medicare.  ... Trump will end Social Security. Period. Either it will collapse, or financing it and Medicare out of the general treasury will absolutely strafe other functions of government. Social Security pays out more than a trillion dollars every year in benefits, and Medicare costs around $750 billion a year; by contrast, entire non-defense discretionary spending, which is basically all domestic spending on education and the environment and everything, is $660 billion.

 You can do the math as easily as I can. If the federal government suddenly has to finance $1.75 trillion out of the general treasury, it will stop cleaning rivers, building highways, caring for veterans, and a hundred other things that people actually care about. 

But that isn’t even the main point. The main point is that it’s more likely that Social Security and Medicare will just die with their funding source gone. After Trump made his announcement, the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary wrote that if the payroll tax is eliminated, the fund will go broke in 2023. That’s three years. From now.

Republicans in the Senate have been refusing to pass another stimulus bill to care for people out of work, even while 860,000 more people sought unemployment benefits last week. We don't have an economy; we have a human emergency as people who want to work can't because of the spread of the virus. Senators don't seem to care -- maybe they will be if they get fired by the voters in November. The Democrats in the House sent them a plan to help us in May. But from the Republicans, nothing.

Come on Colorado, Arizona, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, and Montana voters. Replace your Republican Senators. You have a chance to elect new Senators and win a Senate that cares.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

No, it's not over ... we need to figure out how to live anew

Apparently Donald Trump still thinks he can magically dismiss the virus that has killed 200,000 of us. He still thinks it will go away.

Dr. Aaron Carroll,  a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute, offers a succinct summary of where we are and what we have to look forward to amidst the pandemic. 

The approval of a vaccine may be the beginning of a real coronavirus response; it certainly won’t be the end.

It is much more likely that life in 2021, especially in the first half of the year, will need to look much like life does now. Those who think that we have just a few more months of pain to endure will need to adjust their expectations. Those thinking that school this fall will be a one-off, that we will be back to normal next year, let alone next semester, may be in for a rude awakening. 

... We still need to figure out how to live in this new world, now, and that means embracing, finally, all the strategies for fighting the virus that many of us have resisted.

... Colder weather will force us indoors, closer together, removing the benefits of being outside. Influenza is coming. Those drawing comfort from the fact that many countries in the Southern Hemisphere had mild flu seasons need to recognize that those countries were also engaging in the behaviors that controlled the spread of the coronavirus. It’s a mistake to assume that we will reap the same rewards without committing to the same sacrifices.

... This is a marathon, not a sprint. Both, though, require running.

One thing is sure: we can't find security alone, whether as self-reliant individuals or little family pods. Moving beyond the pandemic is something we have to do together, as a community. That's hard, but nothing else will succeed. 

This has been such a large, prosperous country that we could sometimes delude ourselves that rugged individualism was enough. The virus proves that's not so. We will have to adjust, to learn new virtues.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

You have been advised ...


I received my Terms of Service yesterday from the U.S. Postal Service. Did you?

Trump's Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the rest of his grifting crew of second-rate union busters want to be sure they are off the hook for whatever screws ups they achieve in moving election mail. So they resorted to the same dodge that app developers use to indemnify themselves for any damage by their product. You have been warned. There's not much you can do about it, but hey, we told you. 

If you are in California, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with what the small print on the back says about how your ballot will be handled. Anything wrong, except that, it is hard to trust an entity which is ditching its commitment to service.

In Colorado, an all-mail ballot state, says the USPS diktat conflicts with state law. The courts will decide that one.

Voting by mail is most likely safe, if you do it before the last minute. But we do all have to make a plan just to make sure ... In that, the USPS is right.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Coalition politics

This election constantly reminds me of scholar and cultural activist Bernice Johnson Reagon's wisdom:

There is no chance you can survive by staying inside [your] barred room.
If we're going to expel Donald Trump from the White House, an awful lot of us who don't necessarily much like each other's politics are going to have to work together. As Nevada medical student Alex Cabrera, a Bernie Sanders supporter, told the Los Angeles Times:
... Cabrera looks forward to the November presidential election with a combination of sadness, anger and reservation, consigned to a choice between the “fascism” of President Trump and the “neo-liberalism” of Joe Biden, which feels like no choice at all.
He knows what he has to do.

The full article is a good picture of the state of the election in Nevada, a state that Democrats hoped to take for granted and that the Trump campaign hopes it can steal from the Biden column.

I'm making calls from home to voters in Nevada with the good folks from the hotel and restaurant workers' union, UniteHERE. If you haven't yet settled on what you are doing to evict Trump (why not???) and can help, send me a message or email me at janinsanfranatgmail.

I'm sometimes asked why we're working in Nevada, not some more obvious  battleground state. Here's what I think people need to know:

  • Although Nevada is now considered a blue state, Democratic presidential candidates have been winning its 6 electoral votes by declining margins over the last 3 elections. In 2008, Obama prevailed by a margin of nearly 121,000 votes. In 2012, he only won by 67,800. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the state by a mere 27,000 votes. This is not a pattern to feel assured about.
  • Moreover, early September polls show the race in Nevada tightening with Biden up by only 4 points, down from nearly 6 earlier in the year. We cannot be assured that Biden has a tight grip on the state.
  • Finally, Trump is screaming bloody murder about Nevada encouraging voting-by-mail by sending all registered voters their ballots. Unless we can run up Biden's margin, there will be a fight over Nevada's totals -- even if it is a dishonest lawsuit. That's just who Trump and the Republicans are.

There's plenty of work to do.

Reno, Nevada -- back in the day when the town's skies were not clogged with wildfire smoke.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Anti-racist moments

W.E.B.DuBois's Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 is the essential text for understanding why, after the promising beginning achieved by the Union defeat of the Confederacy in 1865 and the subsequent Civil Rights Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th), Black people today are still struggling to assert that Black Lives Matter. But -- Black Reconstruction is 767 pages long. I was fortunate to study the book in a 6-week group a couple of years ago. You can be so fortunate as to read Adam Server's longish article The New Reconstruction in the Atlantic magazine and discover the gist of DuBois's story -- and its implications for the present day.

To Server, the present racial reckoning, triggered by the video of the murder of George Floyd, but prepared over decades by Black struggles against employment discrimination, unequal schooling, and redlining as well as police brutality, provide a new opportunity to get it right. As in the 1860's, a majority of us are aware and outraged about the country's treatment of its Black citizens.

“For a brief period ... the majority of thinking Americans of the North believed in the equal manhood of Negroes,” W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in 1935. ... These Americans believed Black lives mattered. But only for a moment.
So too today, except we've mostly learned to be explicit about the humanity of all women as well as all men.

With the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, droves of African American men went to the polls to exercise their newly recognized right to vote.
With the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, droves of African American men went to the polls to exercise their newly recognized right to vote. Alfred R. Waud, “The First Vote,” November 1867. Library of Congress.

That awareness has historically been episodic. The Black civil rights struggle again forced another moment onto the national consciousness in the 1950s and 60s, winning formal legal equality for Black citizens where there had been only segregation and exclusion from legal citizenship, including voting rights. But that moment too faded, to be eclipsed by white grievances against perceived loss of status during rapid cultural change and painful de-industrialization.

Serwer is no cock-eyed optimist, but he dares hope that our society may be living in another moment when the demand that Black lives matter can force meaningful progress toward a more perfect polity. And it might be able to do so through very imperfect instruments.

... change is possible, even for an old hand like Biden. Ulysses S. Grant married into a slave-owning family, and inherited an enslaved person from his father-in-law. Little in his past suggested that he would crush the slave empire of the Confederacy, smash the first Ku Klux Klan, and become the first American president to champion the full citizenship of Black men. Before he signed the Civil and Voting Rights Acts as president, Senator Lyndon Johnson was a reliable segregationist. History has seen more dramatic reversals than Joe Biden becoming a committed foe of systemic racism, though not many.

If Democrats seize the moment, it will be because the determination of a new generation of activists, and the uniqueness of the party’s current makeup, has compelled them to do so. In the 1870s—and up through the 1960s—the American population was close to 90 percent white. Today it is 76 percent white. The growing diversity of the United States—and the Republican Party’s embrace of white identity politics in response—has created a large constituency in the Democratic Party with a direct stake in the achievement of racial equality. 
There has never been an anti-racist majority in American history; there may be one today in the racially and socioeconomically diverse coalition of voters radicalized by the abrupt transition from the hope of the Obama era to the cruelty of the Trump age.  
... History teaches that awakenings such as this one are rare. If a new president, and a new Congress, do not act before the American people’s demand for justice gives way to complacency or is eclipsed by backlash, the next opportunity will be long in coming. But in these moments, great strides toward the unfulfilled promises of the founding are possible. 
It would be unexpected if a demagogue wielding the power of the presidency in the name of white man’s government inspired Americans to recommit to defending the inalienable rights of their countrymen. But it would not be the first time.
It is the historical responsibility of this generation of citizens to make this so.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

A short discourse on political signs

Political pros hate them. Some activists love them. And within campaigns, they are always a fraught topic. 

A New York Times account of efforts among local Democratic activists to re-energize the party in rural Pennsylvania touches on themes that are frequently part of the great sign kerfuffle.

Mr. Eggleston is leading an effort to get tens of thousands of Biden-Harris placards planted around the state. Every Democrat I talked to for this story emphasized the importance of this low-tech tactic. In rural areas, just about everyone has a yard. For badly outnumbered Democrats, the signs tell them they are not alone. 
Mr. Obama’s campaigns were digitally savvy and groundbreaking in their mastery of the internet. That was the model for the Clinton team, and Mr. Eggleston said he struggled in 2016 to convince them of the importance of signs. “You run into these militant campaign professionals,” he said. “They tell you, ‘Signs don’t vote.’ We didn’t have much of anything last time around. 
By contrast, he said, the Trump campaign “dumped a mountain of merchandise on these people. It was a sea of Trump signs, Trump hats, Trump buttons. People didn’t understand the impact of that. They made him into a brand. 
Mr. Eggleston has been delivering many of the signs himself to bulk drop-off locations, driving thousands of miles in a rental truck across Pennsylvania’s interstates. “I’m doing it partly for self-therapy,” he said. “There’s a sense of shared purpose that was missing in 2016. I feel good about Pennsylvania because of it. It is the exact opposite of 2016. People thought Clinton was a shoo-in and there was never enough energy.”

It's true: "signs don't vote." And it is also true that, in some locales, signs and bumperstickers and pins and t-shirts serve to let supporters know they are not alone. And whether those supporters are feeling isolated or feeling part of a triumphant surge of energy as they may in a winning campaign, that experience of the election as collective action is a bedrock of democratic citizenship.

So what are the issues with signs? The professional answer is that their impact can't be quantified. And it can't. But when a campaign is a going concern, there are many elements that can't be quantified. A little magic is a good thing -- if grounded in some realism.

Signs can be expensive. Durable ones, especially if an effort is made to find an interesting design, are not cheap. And for Democrats, signs must be printed by union shops -- good for quality, but comparatively pricey. The campaign's bean counters usually hate signs. It is not uncommon to walk into a campaign office looking for a sign and be told the workers are not allowed to give them out. WTF?

Signs are a logistical nightmare for campaign staff. They are heavy and awkward and often fit poorly in the messy small cars staffers find themselves living out of. And clamoring voters who won't do any other campaign work demand them and then complain if they are not delivered. It can hard to justify the amount of energy that sign management consumes in a campaign, especially since efficient sign distribution takes time from actual voter contact.

And yet, as Mr. Eggleston insists of his Pennsylvania turf, signs can be an important cultural marker in some places. 

San Francisco is a sign town. Not too long ago it was legal for campaigns to hire a sign hanging company to decorate every wooden utility pole in every commercial neighborhood with their stuff. The visual result was hideous -- and effective for getting noticed if otherwise unknown candidates got out early and used gripping designs. I was once part of a low budget campaign that spent half its cash on signs, unusually good ones, and prevailed. Fortunately for the appearance of the city, plastering signs everywhere is no longer legal.

But window signs are still a thing here. Volunteers are sent out to place them in small stores; this is still a city with idiosyncratic retail (or was until the pandemic.) But residents with much viewed front windows are also accustomed to post signs in their homes. It's just a way we express our politics. 

No, you can't quantify it. But signs have a value if we want an engaged population. And I'd argue that progressives need all the engaged citizens we can encourage -- but that's a different post.

Friday, September 11, 2020

After September 11 2001: the victims became the perpetrators

It was both wrong and stupid to respond to a criminal atrocity by making wars without end. We have a national responsibility, however little we want to take it up. Some of us know that.

Friday cat blogging

Janeway knew how to respond to the recent heat wave. She stretched herself out to her fullest extent and ordered me to fix it with plaintive meows. I was a failure as so often.

The fire-induced orange sky which blotted out sunrise yesterday seemed to confuse her. It confused me too.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Applebaum's loser ex-friends -- and us

Anne Applebaum has written a genuinely charming book about how many of her former friends on the center-right of Eastern European, British, and American societies have morphed into apologists and cheer leaders for authoritarian populism.

To a person of the left and center-left (like me), the question evokes an easy answer: woman, you had the wrong friends! Intellectually credentialed careerists, artistes, and recycled Reaganites do not make a promising bunch for building societies based in rule of law, honesty, equity, and equality. Yet I found Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism nonetheless fascinating.

The book is a sort of travelogue of currently empowered right wing losers, from Poland, to Hungary, on to the UK of Boris Johnson's Brexit, through the Washington of Fox News. I read it as an audiobook. Anne Applebaum reads it herself and she's a very engaging reader.  (With our libraries closed for the pandemic I haven't acquired a hard copy, so quotations in this post are from here.)

Applebaum is a resident of Poland; her husband was, until the current demagogues of the Law and Justice Party prevailed, an up-and-coming Polish politician. Her circle experienced the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe as a new dawn. She has written significant histories of Stalinist atrocities. Before landing in Poland, she had worked in journalism in London and in the U.S., her country of origin. She's just about the definition of a modern cosmopolitan by personal history. Yet many of the people she once identified with have turned to vicious illiberalism. What happened?

The stories differ by place and context. But there are themes. Authoritarians need, and reward, people like her former friends.

“They need people who can use sophisticated legal language, people who can argue that breaking the constitution or twisting the law is the right thing to do ... They need people who will give voice to grievances, manipulate discontent, channel anger and fear, and imagine a different future.”
These useful idiots -- for what else can I call apologists for tyranny? -- thought they deserved to be overlords, but found themselves second-raters in healthy democratic societies. And the onrushing changes that healthy democratic societies can, fitfully, contain, evoked in these people only terror. She draws from the German-born American historian of the rise of Nazism, Fritz Stern, for her summation of their anxieties.
“What he was describing was people who were disturbed and distressed by modernity and by industrialization and rapid economic and social change. And it seems to me we’re living in a very similar era ...”
Of all these people, she finds Fox News hate-monger Laura Ingraham perhaps the most incomprehensible. Doesn't a multi-racial, multi-cultural United States afford enough scope for her? How could a peddler of vicious anti-immigrant tropes be the adoptive mother of immigrant children? In Ingraham's case she suggests that a desiccated Roman Catholicism which mistakes traditional rigidities for salvation as the root cause.

Okay, so Applebaum's former friends are repulsive -- but her project of trying to understand what went wrong feels honorable and a useful example.

After all, for those of us on the left side of politics, the Trump years have forced us to wonder again and again, how could some 40 percent of the people of this country remain infatuated with an incompetent, phony, lying, narcissist. He apparently serves needs that we are fortunate not to share, whether as an exemplar of unapologetic race bigotry, or of irresponsible boundless greed, or for just hating on those others, the liberals. 

A society that serves most of its members is organized to provide hope and possibilities that tamp down the power of these oh-so-human instincts. That's not happening for too many of us. We have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Speaking so voters can hear

This is my idea of a terrific campaign ad. Take a look. You may find it nothing special, even boring. But it's perfectly suited to the district and the candidate it supports.

For years, California's 21st congressional district was a frustration to Democrats. The population of the San Joaquin Valley area is 71 percent Latinx. Voters registered as Democrats have long outnumbered Republicans. Hillary Clinton won the 21st in 2016 by 15 points! 

But CA-21 still elected a Republican congressman, over and over. 

In the blue wave year of 2018, TJ Cox changed that, sneaking past the Republican by less than 1000 votes out of a total of 113,000. 

Still, folks living in Kings County, and bits of Fresno, Tulare, and Kern counties, are not habitual voters. They need to be reminded what's in it for them. Irene Espinoza and TJ Cox do that here, simply and powerfully. Campaign ads don't have to be dramatic. They need to be believable and speak to real concerns.

This is not what sky should look like

According to the air quality monitoring sites, our air is much cleaner than it has been. But this was what early morning looks like in San Francisco today. I have not retouched these.

And San Francisco is a good distance from the many current fires.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

People in this country are hungry

The Trumpies are crowing the U.S. economy is recovering. Don't tell that to these folks who wait in line carefully socially distanced for food supplies from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. The line stretched around the block.

Don't try to tell it to the families to whom I deliver food boxes weekly from the Mission Food Hub. 

People are hungry in this country. Don't try to tell out-of-work workers that things are getting better. Here's Juan Cole: 

It is a sad Labor Day, in the shadow of the Trump Pandemic. Over a fourth of workers are afraid of losing their jobs because of the pandemic, up from 15% last year this time, according to Gallup. That is, the anxiety over joblessness has almost doubled. Many are much more worried, as well, about having their wages cut. Workers are more anxious than at any time since the Great Recession began to taper off nine years ago.

Some 27 million US workers are receiving jobless benefits. While the government is reporting an improvement of unemployment to 8.4%, it is more like 9% because many workers who have been temporarily laid off mark themselves as “absent.” Moreover, some 300,000 of the new jobs are as census workers, which doesn’t really tell you that the private sector is rebounding. Not to mention that 8.4% unemployment is apocalyptic. ...

Donald Trump has got to go. He's killing us.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Labor Day 2020

In San Francisco, we frequently communicate with our neighbors by posting signs in our windows. The pandemic has only increased our drive toward this kind of pseudo-interaction. Among a flowering of signs proclaiming our hope and fear for Black lives and other signs congratulating high school grads robbed of their graduation ceremonies, we shout our thanks for those who go out to work.

Since Walking San Francisco was not interrupted by the shelter-in-place order (solitary, masked, exercise, right?) I collected many examples. These workers who are experiencing a far higher rate of infection than those of us who can stay home deserve all our thanks. And better pay than most receive!

Do we think those of us who don't have to go out will remember who we owe when this is over? If it ever is over ...

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Enslaved people among the godly

We sometimes think of slavery in the pre-emancipation U.S. republic as not only the "peculiar institution" of the southern states, but something foreign to the northern part of the Union. Not so, according to Western Washington professor Jared Ross Hardesty's Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England. This slim book provides a solid, workmanlike survey of slavery's features, development, and eventual dispatch among my Massachusetts ancestors.

Puritan colonists were escaping what they experienced as an inadequately godly home country. They sought purity. Their peculiar form of slavery began in that context. For the English men and -women who settled New England, slavery was something both foreign and familiar. While they would not have encountered many enslaved Africans in England before sojourning across the Atlantic, they would have been aware of various forms of captivity and bondage from around the globe. As such, the first generation of New Englanders had a relatively ambivalent relationship with slavery. On the one hand, slavery was always on the table and a tool of colonization. There was, however, a deep-seated fear about the presence of so many enslaved "strangers" present in their colonial experiment in the North American wilderness. ...
The settlers' point of reference was the Bible -- a Bible whose own witness on bondage was ambivalent, including both liberation in the Exodus and the strictures of the book of Leviticus. Hardesty asserts that New Englanders associated both imported people of African descent and the Native Americans with the Biblical "children of Ham," descendants of Noah who God had cursed. In consequence of this impure ancestry, it was proper they should be servants of the godly. Enslaved people were thought of as savage and pagan -- and thus inferior to Englishmen -- but this was not the "scientific" racism of skin color developed by European societies of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

There were never huge numbers of enslaved persons in New England. This was a land of small farms and bustling towns where artisans thrived. But the port cities -- especially those of Newport and Providence, Rhode Island -- were central to the slave trade in English-speaking America. New Englanders conquered the Native people of their area and shipped the captives to the West Indies. The West Indies traded Africans who had been stolen from West Africa and enslaved on Caribbean plantations. Some enslaved people who ended up in New England were born in Jamaica and on other islands. 

New Englanders valued slaves for their labor.

Whether African or Indian, perceived to be part of the community or not, enslaved men and women were in New England to work. By 1700, slaves could be found working in nearly every sector of the New England economy. They provided labor on farms across the region, helping to clear forests, build fences, and plant crops. In that sense, they were both tools of imperialism and victims of it. Likewise, as the port cities of New England established commercial connections across the Atlantic world, and their economies became ever more complex, bondsmen and -women found themselves at work providing supplemental and skilled labor. As the seventeenth century progressed, an observer would have found increasing numbers of slaves working in shipyards, brick kilns, and artisanal workshops of places like Boston, Salem, New London, Hartford, Newport, and Providence. Meanwhile, as the region's wealth increased through commerce, many leading families purchased enslaved women to work in their kitchens, provide household labor such as sewing and weaving, and help raise children.
In the usually legalistic environment of the colonies, the status of these bound foreigners long remained not fully articulated. Colonial laws "both permitted and prohibited slavery." Hardesty concludes that, without completely defining the practice even among the colonizers themselves, New England slavery can be characterized as "equivocal, racialized, and legal."

This was a newly founded society that believed absolutely in god-given hierarchies whose preservation determined the good life. Even though these colonists had rather bravely ventured across a daunting ocean into an unknown land, they thought their settlements only thrived when their inhabitants obeyed the dictates of properly constituted authority. People were born into roles and were to stay in their places. So when they took up slavery, they folded the enslaved people into their accustomed pattern, much like dependent children and other servants. 

In this world structured by ties of dependency, slavery made sense. Laws and institutions supporting bondage were already in place and able to accommodate another form of oppression. The men and women trafficked to the region would have encountered colonies and peoples inculcated in this culture. New England colonists integrated slaves into their patriarchal families. As legal dependents in New England households, enslaved men and women were subject to the same authority and disciplinary regimen as other bound laborers. Like families, authorities envisioned slaves as part of the social hierarchy, although their blackness confined them to the bottom of the "great chain."

For enslaved men and women, patriarchal slavery was double-edged sword. On the one hand, they were are the bottom of the social hierarchy, yet the bottom was still a place in society. As such, they access to many of New England's institutions such as the region's many churches and the legal system. Likewise, they could use the language of dependence to leverage concessions from both masters and society at large.

 ... Unlike plantation colonies in the American South and Caribbean, the New England colonies did not create special slave courts or bar people of color from testifying in court. ... Legal personhood... came with two additional benefits for enslaved New Englanders, which further differentiated the region from other parts of the Americas. ... [M]asters did not have the right to the lives of their slaves, so masters could not kill their slaves. If an enslaver murdered his or her bondsman or  -woman, the enslaver faced criminal charges in the way one did for murdering a free person. Likewise, enslaved people could buy, sell, and own property. ...

How did slavery end in New England? In Hardesty's telling, essentially with the growth of ideas of equality among the owner population. In the time of the American revolution, slavery became untenable. The relative legal personhood of slaves, the fact that by the 1740s there was an ever more sizable group of literate Africans, often freed from bondage through their own skilled labor, made continuation of human slavery impossible. 

After the United States secured its independence in 1783, the new nation had to face the question of slavery. How could a nation dedicated to liberty and equality condone slavery? New Englanders had to confront this question with even greater concern. The region was the epicenter of revolutionary activity, and the hypocrisy of owning slaves was even more glaring. Disproportionately, enslaved men from New England served in the military. By the 1770s, the region was a hotbed of anti-slavery activity and New Englanders of color vociferously demanded their rights. It should come as no surprise, then, that in the two decades following the Declaration of Independence, New Englanders, black and white alike, systematically destroyed slavery.
The impulse for abolition came from above from revolutionary governments and below from the enslaved themselves.

The founding of a new nation -- however equivocally conceived in liberty -- changed possibilities for both whites and Blacks, both for both free men and enslaved people. Change does happen.

Afterthoughts: The post will likely conclude my personal 1620 project -- explorations in the history of my ancestors who arrived in Massachusetts 400 years ago. The little work I've done on this has been a good reminder to me that people in other times and places were very different from me and my contemporaries. And that I'll never really "get it." I find my puritan ancestors pretty repulsive. I'm not sure what that means -- perhaps nothing at all. Humans do our best; times and seasons come and go. Other 1620 posts:

My 1620 project: those Massachusetts Pilgrims

Those Plymouth puritans

Raised up by the wind in colonized Massachusetts