Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Some states did better than others; all could do more

Click to enlarge.

Matt Yglesias posted this map to show that most states contribute hardly any assistance to families with children living in dire poverty. And it does do that. But it shows something else as well: how political differences between states meant different effects on poor people.

TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) is the Clinton-era successor program to what used to be called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, more commonly known as welfare. In the 1990s, legislators of both parties decided they could force those lazy ladies raising kids on a pittance of government assistance to work for their benefits. And also that they should limit families' eligibility to collect any help at all after a period as short as two years. Bureaucratic hoop was intertwined with bureaucratic hoop; many women and families just fell out of the system altogether and got nothing. In good economic times, some of these parents caught on in the most precarious of bad jobs; in bad times, they fell out of the labor force. We see some of them living on the streets today.

The sum the federal government gave the states to pay for TANF was set in the 1990s, and as far as I know never increased. It never was generous and is worth far less today. In any case, the welfare "reform" law was written so that, if states wanted to, they could divert TANF cash to their general funds. So what the map really shows is that most states (yes, the usual suspects) did just that, effectively pocketing a federal windfall nominally meant to help poor people.

How much poor women and their kids were hurt by "reform" came to depend on the political balance of forces in each state. The few dark blue states on the map above reacted to welfare "reform" with policies that were more generous to recipients. To some extent, this came about because poor women fought back. In California, for example, organized welfare recipients won the right to count education at community colleges and in technical programs as "work" for the purpose of keeping eligibility. This seems merely sane, but the 1996 law was so punitive toward those needing assistance that it took battles to win.

No wonder, after 25 years of these sorts of policies, we are ready for President Biden's American Families Plan in some form. It's time for this country to give parents and children a hand. 

• • •

It took a few years for a clear picture of the effects of the 1996 welfare law to play out. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by social scientists Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer offers a lively description of the subsequent extreme poverty into which many families fell.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

The peculiar problems of peeing during a pandemic

Maybe it's really almost over. A couple of weeks ago, I was able to do something that told me this city is making progress on re-opening from the coronavirus: I found a public toilet in an out-of-the-way park and it was open for use! Yippee! Most such facilities had been closed since March 2020 or a little later.

I can testify to this because I whiled away the pandemic by completing huge chunks of my Walking San Francisco project. Even at the very beginning when we didn't know much about how COVID is spread, it seemed as if longish walks with a camera were permissible. In those traffic free days, the city was quiet and sometimes very lovely in a clean-air spring.

Eureka! It's unlocked.
But walking about the city posed a problem: where should I pee? In the previous eight years of the project, I'd gotten very good at scouting out opportunities. But not in 2020. Coffee shops were not open; public libraries were closed; some big retail, grocery stores and mini-malls might be open, but not the bathrooms; public park facilities were mostly locked.

My best bet for relief became residential construction sites equipped with a porta-potty. But in the early days, the workers were off the jobs and sheltering in place too. Most of their facilities were locked. I became eagle-eyed, looking for unlocked enclosures.

Pretty soon I had quite a few points of "anecdata": there were socio-economic patterns to the availability of urban porta-potties. In poor and working class neighborhoods, they were always locked. Ditto in the truly wealthy areas. Not so in upper middle class residential neighborhoods.  There I could usually find a porta-potty to duck into. As job sites reopened, I could sometimes find workers to ask to use their facilities.

And, of course, I've been an urban runner for decades. That means I've am not ashamed to use of what I call "circular bushes," conveniently placed shrubbery. A city presents a surprising quantity of possibilities, often on median strips or around public buildings, in just about every neighborhood. You just want to look out for surveillance cameras. Wouldn't want to upset the security ...

A few months ago, Nicholas Kristof, an observant Times columnist who I often find too saccharine, made a great suggestion:

America’s most disgraceful infrastructure failing is its lack of public toilets. ... the United States is simply not made for people who pee. ... Americans have painstakingly built new norms about dog owners picking up after their pets, but we’ve gone backward with human waste. ... How is it that we can afford aircraft carriers but not toilets? 
... it’s not just the homeless who suffer. Taxi drivers, delivery people, tourists and others are out and about all day, navigating a landscape that seems oblivious to the most basic of needs. The same is true of parents out with kids. 
So come on, President Biden! Let’s see an infrastructure plan that addresses not only bridges and electrical grids, but also bladders and bowels.
Now there's an infrastructure plan I could love. And so would a lot of people on the streets, voluntarily or involuntarily.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Averting the War to End War

According to Georgetown historian Michael Kazin, World War I was a "bad" war. That is, that monstrous bloodletting was, for the United States, a war of choice rather than for the safety and security of the nation. In that sense, the first worldwide conflict of the 20th century was like so many U.S. military excursions that came later: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the catalogue goes on. U.S. entry into the European conflict, which had nearly exhausted the original participants by the time we got "over there," looks inevitable in hindsight -- and certainly set the pattern for U.S. world power.

But intervention wasn't inevitable.

War against War: the American fight for peace 1914-1918 is about the vigorous, broad-based peace movement which opposed U.S. participation.

There's little doubt that, in 1914 when the carnage began on European battlefields, most people in the U.S. didn't give a whit and didn't think this was their nation's business. The belief was common that wars were only ploys by capitalist munitions sellers to increase their profits. Many citizens distrusted and feared militarism and glorification of armed conflict, though former President Teddy Roosevelt yearned for heroics. Large immigrant pockets, still incompletely melted into Americanism, identified with combatants of their former nations. Quite a few of those were of Germans-origin. People from English-speaking backgrounds identified with the Allies, with Britain and France -- but hardly anyone much cared for the tyrannical czarist Russian empire.

Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, in office 1912-1920, was a wily bird, managing his unwieldy coalition political party. He gave ear-room to its many pacifist, isolationist, and internationalist socialist elements, while gradually moving the country toward coming in on the side of the Allies in accord with the party's mercantile and industrial factions. He ran for re-election in 1916 on the message "he kept us out of war" and then asked for a declaration of war in April 1917.  Meanwhile he was still uttering idealistic promises about peace without victory, a war to end war, and the promise of a more just international order that the United States would midwife when the guns stopped. (We didn't do any such thing, but that's not Kazin's story here.)

Kazin recounts the efforts of a parade of anti-war leaders who were both celebrities and true opinion leaders in their day, though our memory of them has dimmed: the religious pacifist politician Democrat William Jennings Bryan, the Wisconsin Republican progressive Robert LaFollette, the capitalist isolationist Henry Ford (yes, the car magnate and later Hitler-sympathizer), the socialist humanitarian Jane Addams. He also records the persecution Wilson's Justice Department unleashed against anyone who might have challenged conscription for the army or "patriotism" in general.

Kazin concludes with a thoughtful observation that succinctly captures something I've had to learn in a lifetime of opposition to our "bad" wars. Our forebears who opposed World War I set us a significant example of ingenuity but also of compromises in an inherently complex political endeavor.
Anti-war movements are not like other collective attempts to change society. In contrast to those who seek to win rights and a measure of power for women or workers or people of color or gays and lesbians, peace organizations have no natural constituency. Neither can their movements grow slowly, taking decades to convince ordinary people and elites to think differently and enact laws to embody that new perspective. A massive effort to stop one's country from going to war -- or to stop a war that it is already waging -- has to grow quickly or it will have little or no influence.  
What's more, it has to lure talented activists away from other, more enduring political commitments. Every new war also requires peace activists to create a new movement and then find partners for a coalition that might be capable of pressuring the government to end it. There have always been pacifists in the United States. But during periods of peace or brief conflicts, they endure on the margins, unknown to most of their fellow citizens. 
The Americans who fought a war against war from the summer of 1914 until the Armistice fifty-one months later managed to surmount all these obstacles ... [Their challenge to their war remains relevant:] Can one preserve a peaceful and democratic society at home while venturing into the world to kill those whom our leaders designate, rationally or not, as our enemies?
Kazin thinks, and I concur, that the late 20th and early 21st century United States lost its way in part because, in the aftermath of the inconclusive 1914-18 European war, we ended up fighting a "good" war in 1941-1945 in which real challenges to national and civilizational survival were at issue. (This analytic framework elides the concurrent race war in the Pacific between U.S. and Japanese empires -- we routinely erase that experience mentally, though we may learn to do so less these days as China "rises.")

Because of the horrendous -- life or death -- experience of that one "good" war against Nazi barbarism, we have ever since been confused in a way in which early 20th century citizens were not when our leaders call us to "bad" -- unnecessary -- wars. We, broadly, have become more easily roused to believe a present call to war is another "good" war.  There are very few "good" wars -- and all wars are still wrong, cruel, and terrible.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Students call for a #RestorativeRestart

You can't just open the buildings, call back as many teachers, staff and students as you can find, and expect education to resume as if 2020 never happened. The past year has been disorienting, frightening, and grief-filled. Students want help to move beyond the trauma. 

Fortunately, there's some funding for re-opening and a lot of good ideas, many of which are in described a research brief, “Reimagine and Rebuild: Restarting school with equity at the center,” issued by a broad coalition of teachers, academics, funders, and youth organizations. 

In an article in EdSource, Taryn Ishida, executive director of Californians for Justice, described what the young people who worked on the brief brought to the project.

“In education, we talk a lot about students, but rarely do we talk with them. The brief was developed by working with Black, brown, Asian Pacific Islander and low-income students to lay out their blueprint for an education system that is built to support every student to thrive.”

These students know that they want to learn, but after the interruption of the pandemic, they need help and support from teachers and the education system at large.

Imagine being a first-year high school student. On campus with 3,000, maybe even 4,000 students. You’ve never met your teachers, let alone seen your fellow classmates in more than a year. You’re in a brand new school, the hallways are crowded, and you feel overwhelmed. What are you going to do?
Nobody thinks it is going to be easy to make up for the loss of a year of in-person instruction. But the young people are at work on a vision for a #RestorativeRestart.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

For May Day: let's remember who has been dying

This story by Nadia Lopez from the Fresno Bee brought me up short:

87% of additional California deaths in 2020 pandemic were workers

The state’s essential laborers continued showing up to work throughout the pandemic. But for many, those low-wage jobs on the frontlines came at a high cost.

Deaths among Californians between ages 18 and 65 increased by 25% during the first ten months of the pandemic, with the state’s workers making up 12,500 of 14,370 additional deaths compared to the previous year — or 87% of additional deaths in 2020, according to an analysis of state public health data by the UC Merced Community and Labor Center.

... “The Central Valley has always had high rates of worker injuries, illnesses and deaths because of the many high-risk industries like meat processing, agriculture, manufacturing and warehousing that have been core to our economy,” [Mai] Thao [of the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council] said. “But within the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply and disproportionately impacted these high-risk industries, with many worksites initiating outbreaks and leading to deaths.

Living in a city and in the Mission neighborhood, it's not a stretch to catch the general idea that the pandemic is hitting communities of color hardest. That's evident all around.

But here's deadly evidence of our urban dependence on Central Valley workers -- from diverse communities, many undocumented migrants -- who keep the food coming for all of us.

Friday, April 30, 2021

We need Biden's "American Jobs Plan" and probably much more

I can't get over the picture of our current employment situation described in recently compiled economic statistics. It's becoming all too clear who is being left behind in our effervescent post-pandemic recovery.

In March, for example, the overall economy added back 916,000 jobs. Only 7,000 went to workers with high school diplomas but no college degree. [My emphasis.]

... Horrigan’s research has shown that both minority females without college degrees and white males without college degrees are having the hardest time finding work again.

... The problem for policymakers, Madowitz says, is there’s been a lot of thinking in the past decade about how to help men in blue-collar industries, but there’s been little thinking about how to help women in the service sector who suddenly might need to change careers.

This isn't the most intuitive graph, but it highlights what's amiss:

People with college degrees, and even with 2 year college experience, are getting back to work.

People without college are not yet getting call backs. Many such people were "essential workers" during pandemic lock downs, doing work that kept society going. But similar workers who were forced out during shut downs are not yet finding new and renewed employment.

Friday cat blogging

Erudite Partner was just adjusting controls on the TV box. Janeway saw her chance for a higher perch. She's a hazard, whenever we bend over and sometimes even leaping from a standing start. Ah, youth!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Are we going to do anything about it?

"White supremacy is terrorism." 

Joe Biden said that from the podium in the House of Representatives last night.

I think we can say the Biden administration is trying. The old, white, Irish-American guy has come to power at a moment when our contradictions of race and power are murderously visible. There's no way around 'em -- we're going through ...

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Definitions of terms

My friend Scot Nakagawa writes a new Substack, We Fight the Right, which I find wise. For years, he has dropped mini-essays, which I think of as dives into understanding the context of ongoing progressive struggle, on Facebook. This seems a better medium for his particular insights.

Here are some tidbits in which he's shares how he thinks about and distinguishes between "white supremacy," "structural racism," and "white nationalism."
• As an ideology, white supremacy is the belief that white people are, by dint of race, culturally and/or biologically superior to all other people and should, therefore be the dominant group in a multiracial society. White supremacy as ideology was invented to justify the establishment of explicitly racist codes and institutions that protect white dominance and rationalize race-slavery, Native American dispossession, the subjugation of women, and immigration limitation and control in the context of a liberal democratic state. ...

• The contemporary legacy of legal white supremacy today is structural racism. Structural racism refers to the contemporary system of racially inequitable social and political relations resulting from historic practices of legally sanctioned racial exploitation and exclusion. ... Importantly, because structural racism is a historic construct, it can be reproduced without explicit racist intent. It keeps on when we just go along, making its seeming permanence a further rational for its perpetuation. But while just going along with it, even unconsciously may be enough to perpetuate it, none of us were the original architects of structural racism, making blame a dry well when it comes to achieving justice. ...
• White nationalism is a radical ideology with revolutionary implications as it proposes not to just subjugate people of color within a white supremacist state, but to exclude people of color altogether, with some factions aiming to achieve this end through taking over government and mounting genocidal campaigns of racial cleansing. ... White supremacy is still relevant to the white nationalists as an ideological system. In other words, their belief in white supremacy is what justifies their white nationalist political agenda.
Go read it all. Scot can help us know what we're talking about and struggling to defang.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Why art?

Signs of post-pandemic life: After more than a year of silence, the students are back, playing in the schoolyard across the street.

 
Someone -- a teacher I presume -- has pasted signs along the wall where children line up to check in.

I warm easily to the joyful call to live life to the fullest. Go kids! 

But I can imagine that the more instrumental Spanish language message might have its place in this school too. Stick with it kids!

Monday, April 26, 2021

In India, the coronavirus is thriving ... but this ...

Every day, it feels more vicious, and realistically, it is more suicidal, for the United States to continue protecting pharmaceutical company "intellectual property" in coronavirus vaccines. 

Nobel economics prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz and Lori Wallach from Public Citizen make the case for breaking patents.

Waiving intellectual property rights so developing countries could produce more vaccines would make a big difference in reaching global herd immunity. Otherwise, the pandemic will rage largely unmitigated among a significant share of the world’s population, resulting in increased deaths and a greater risk that a vaccine-resistant variant puts the world back on lockdown.

... Firms in the Global South are already making covid-19 vaccines. For example, South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare has produced hundreds of millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, even though only a fraction of those went to South Africans. Other drug corporations simply refuse to work with qualified manufacturers in developing countries, effectively blocking more production.

Not one vaccine originator has shared technologies with poor countries through the World Health Organization’s voluntary Covid-19 Technology Access Pool. The global Covax program, which aims to vaccinate 20 percent of developing countries’ most vulnerable populations, has delivered about 38 million doses to 100 countries; meanwhile, the United States administers 3 million doses daily.

There is no way to beat covid-19 without increasing vaccine production capacity. And some production must be in the Global South for a host of reasons, including that prompt suppression of new variants is how we avoid more deaths and quarantines.

India suffers many ills, including rising sectarianism and illiberalism, but it has a large, competent medical supply industry.  Given the chance, it could make vaccines for its own people and much of the world. The United States should stop playing a huge part in preventing this natural development in a situation of global threat.

The U.S. is shipping medical supplies to India, but how about assisting Indians to help themselves?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Send out a fighter jet against protesters?


If this Los Angeles Times story is true -- and it seems responsibly reported by journalists in a real newspaper -- it would seem to me it should be getting more attention:

In March of last year, California National Guard members awaited orders from Sacramento headquarters to make preparations for any civil unrest that might arise from the outbreak of the coronavirus.

 ... The air branch of the Guard was told to place an F-15C fighter jet on an alert status for a possible domestic mission, according to four Guard sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Those sources said the order didn’t spell out the mission but, given the aircraft’s limitations, they understood it to mean the plane could be deployed to terrify and disperse protesters by flying low over them at window-rattling speeds, with its afterburners streaming columns of flames. Fighter jets have been used occasionally in that manner in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, they said.

... They said the jet was also placed on an alert status — fueled and ready for takeoff — for possible responses to protests over the murder of George Floyd by a police officer and to any unrest sparked by the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The Times' sources, implicitly members of the Guard who were aware of the alert orders, say the directives came orally or in text messages, rather than through the usual chain of command. They thought even contemplating using an F-15C fighter jet in this way would be "illegal."

“That jet has one mission and one mission alone — to go up and shoot down other airplanes,” said retired Gen. David Bakos.

I should think so. I hope competent journalists are doing some digging into what seems an important and somewhat tangled story. Gov. Gavin is supposed to be in charge of the California Guard -- where was he in this?

H/t Atrios. He didn't know any more either ...

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Come on Biden: let's get the vaccines out to the world

This morning I was on the phone with a friend in a Central American country. We were trying to make plans for future in-person connections. 

"You know there's no way I'll be vaccinated before next year?" he asked. The only people from his area who have gotten a coronavirus vaccine have been very rich and powerful or people who have U.S. passports who can travel to get jabbed in Miami. Those are often overlapping categories. Most Central Americans are simply shit out of luck.

In the U.S., we've come to a turning point. Most people who want their shots can get them. For months the lament was vaccine scarcity. Now it's the prevalence of hesitancy.

So it seems time (and probably over time) to begin asking what is the U.S. doing to get the rest of the world vaccinated? How are we using our riches?

STAT has a rundown:

More than two million petitions were sent to the White House in hopes of convincing the Biden administration to support a proposal that would temporarily waive trade agreement provisions in a bid to widen access to Covid-19 vaccines in low and middle-income countries.

The effort was promoted by several U.S. lawmakers and dozens of advocacy groups amid ongoing controversy over the proposal, which was introduced last fall at the World Trade Organization. Since then, however, the effort has stalled amid push back by the pharmaceutical industry and some wealthy nations, including the U.S., over concerns that intellectual property rights will be compromised.

The clash, which remained deadlocked yesterday at yet another WTO council meeting, emerges as Covid-19 has claimed more than 3 million lives worldwide and new variants threaten to make it harder to contain the coronavirus. Meanwhile, low-income countries have received just 0.3% of the nearly 900 million doses that have been administered globally, according to the World Health Organization. ...

“This is an all-hands-on-deck global emergency and it doesn’t make sense to grant pharmaceutical companies monopolies, especially since taxpayers have provided funding” to develop some of the vaccines, said Abby Maxman, who heads the Oxfam America advocacy group that supports free global access to Covid-19 vaccination. “We need to use every tool at our disposal.”

The necessary international arrangements are complicated as all things are in a world of many cultures, much need, and competing power centers.  

But the whole world needs vaccines as soon as possible for the sake of us all. The virus doesn't respect borders. And this country should be able to make the pharma compainies give a little -- after all, the U.S. taxpayer paid for much of the research that led to vaccine patents. There are some countries, including hard-pressed India, that could be making vaccines if pharma were forced to loose its death grip. 

In the context of a worldwide pandemic, profit from hording "intellectual property" looks like theft from humanity.

Friday, April 23, 2021

True words cause a ruckus ...

Rep. Mondaire Jones, a House Democrat who represents a district just north of New York City, was speaking in favor of D.C. statehood.

What comes across as a silence in this video is the moment when Republicans, without microphones, started yelling at him for calling their anti-statehood speeches "racist trash." Way to go, Mr. Congressman!

Though he agrees to have this phrase erased from the record in the interest of legislative comity, the whole short speech is worth watching. Congress is changing.

Friday cat blogging

I'm in bed to sleep. It's hard to tell whether Janeway is preparing to nod off or to pounce.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The House votes ...

... on to the Senate. 

[D.C. non-voting delegate Eleanor Holmes] Norton said this year’s vote felt even more significant than last year’s, because awareness of the District’s plight seems to be growing.“It’s now begun to excite the country,” she said in an interview earlier this week.

Erudite Partner grew up in D.C. sixty plus years ago, always aware that Congress was disenfranchising the people of her very Black city. 

The District is no longer so preponderantly Black. That's a complex development, neither all good or all bad. 

But it has always been wrong that 690,000 people don't enjoy full citizenship.

And the rest of us have begun to understand that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

George Floyd is still dead.

The jury could, and did, acknowledge that his death was murder by cop. For that we can be a smidgen glad.

Meanwhile, by way of Samuel Sinyangwe,

Police killed at least 5 people today [Tuesday]. This morning they killed someone in Lakewood, CO. Police killed two people in San Antonio this afternoon. Then they killed someone in Detroit and killed #makhiabryant in Columbus.

It’s been [years] since reporting revealed that just 6% of the police officers in Columbus Ohio were responsible for HALF of the police violence in the city. And yet these officers are still on the force... 

#MakiahBryant is the 5th child killed by Columbus police since 2013.

It goes on.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Motivated reasoning

It turns out our spooks (the so-called "intelligence community") aren't so sure after all that the story which many of us passed on last year about Russia offering bounties for kills of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan was really true.

So says Charlie Savage, a reliable security issues reporter on the forever wars: 

... the administration stopped short of inflicting sanctions on any Russian officials over the suspected bounties, making clear that the available evidence about what happened — primarily what Afghan detainees told interrogators — continues to fall short of definitively proving the C.I.A.’s assessment that Russia likely paid money to reward attacks.

The intelligence community, a senior administration official told reporters, “assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019, and perhaps earlier, including through financial incentives and compensation.”

Naturally Joe Biden, many Democrats, and partisans like me were easily convinced by the idea. Trump had some kind of suck-up relationship with Putin. He had never been known to show any care for anyone's well-being but his own. Plus, for those of us who'd made an effort to understand the Afghanistan morass, it didn't seem far-fetched to wonder whether Russia might simply be replicating a tactic our own CIA had used while egging on jihadist fighters against Russian occupation in the 1980s.

It was all too neat and too convincing. 

Jeff Schogol who reports for military readers explains:

As the Democratic presidential candidate, Biden repeatedly hammered Trump for not taking action about the intelligence on the bounties, accusing Trump of failing in his responsibilities as commander in chief.

... But defense officials consistently told lawmakers and others that the Russian bounty reports could not be corroborated. In December, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. head of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview that intelligence officials had been unable to prove the information about the alleged bounties.

“I relentlessly query my intelligence people on this,” McKenzie told Katie Bo Williams, who was a Defense One reporter at the time. “We just don’t see it — but it’s not because we’re not looking at it. We’re looking at it very hard.”

Now it appears the Biden administration doesn’t see it either.

I'm not happy to have joined the bandwagon on this one -- or any one. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Nice find on the Great Highway

End violence against Asians. Click to enlarge.

The empty Great Highway was lovely on a spring Sunday afternoon, a great venue for an imaginative political statement. The sand-strewn stretch of road has been closed to cars since the pandemic locked us in -- and recreational users want to keep it that way. 

Sunset district neighbors are not so thrilled about that idea. They get all the cars that used to buzz by next to Ocean Beach over on their streets. 

But perhaps traffic calming measures can encourage most drivers to take other routes. Hayes Valley is still adjusting after almost two decades from replacing a freeway stub with the much more human-friendly Octavia Boulevard. 

Change is hard, but reducing cars is worth some habit adjustments.

Update: about corporate capital's turn to supporting democracy

Amy Walter, the esteemed political analyst at the Cook Political Report, has taken a whack at explaining the corporate response to finding that Democrats win elections in the areas where big firms make their money while Republicans hang on to power by winning thinly populated, economically marginal expanses of land.

Walter outlines the increasingly gaping divides:

The Democratic Party is now anchored in the nation's booming, but highly unequal, metro areas, while the GOP relies on aging and economically stagnant manufacturing-reliant rural and exurban communities," Brookings Institute analysts Mark Munro and Jacob Whiton wrote in September of 2019. "The concentration of more than 70% of the nation's professional and digital services economy in the territory of one party would seem to register an almost unsustainable degree of polarization."

Just 12 years ago, according to this excellent analysis by the Wall Street Journal's Dante Chinni and Aaron Zitner, Democratic-held and Republican-held CDs produced about an equal percentage of the country's GDP. By 2019, however, Democratic-held districts produced about two-thirds of the nation's economic output. How did this happen? For the last decade, Democrats have been steadily losing ground in small-town and rural America while also making inroads into fast-growing and formerly GOP-held metro areas in and around places like Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, and of course, Atlanta.

So, today, we have corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines in Georgia at least making feints at supporting measures -- including especially LGBTQ+ and voting rights for all -- that Democratic populations care about. Their management (and work force) adopt city values; the corporations find profit in following.

... the decision by many companies to take a stand on key social issues is something that is driven more by employee input than anything else. 
A 2016 survey taken of major corporations by the Public Affairs Council found that a majority (60 percent) “experienced rising stakeholder pressure to get engaged in social issues such as discrimination, sustainability, human rights and education." Leading the push for engagement within these companies: senior management and employees. According to the survey, 78 percent of the companies said senior management were the most influential in deciding whether to get involved on a social issue, followed by employees at 70 percent. 
About half (51 percent) said the customers drove their decisions and nearly one-third (36 percent) said that shareholders played a role. Corporations, it seems, are indeed people.
In other words, even big companies who have a very politically diverse customer base (Republicans and Democrats watch baseball, fly on airplanes etc.), also have an employee base that's primarily centered in blue metros. And that employee base expects its employer to live up to these blue metro values.

At present, many corporations even seem willing not to throw a hissy fit about Joe Biden's slightly higher corporate tax proposals in order to keep internal peace. This development isn't everything, but it isn't nothing and needs to be pushed as far as possible.

• • •

Judd Legum chases down all the ins and outs of who is throwing around money in politics at Popular Information, an invaluable journalistic resource.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Updates: refugees and security panics

So President Biden has quickly listened to the howls of his constituents and turned around since last Friday, promising to increase the cap on refugee admissions. That little democratic pressure exercise went well; let's keep the pressure on to assist refugees and add pressure for humane solutions to what will be an ever-swelling migration crisis.

Meanwhile, perhaps we need to create another immigration allotment for persons -- outside the refugee and asylum categories -- who should be entitled to relatively easy entry to the U.S.: people who can no longer live in their own societies and countries because of U.S. military adventures.

Cycling rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2018, Wikipedia
Michael Walzer  offers a suggestion prompted by our impending departure from Afghanistan:

When we leave, we must bring with us to the U.S. all the men and women, and their families, who are vulnerable to persecution, imprisonment, or death because of our invasion—directly, because they collaborated with us, but also indirectly, because they agitated for democracy, organized unions, or established schools for girls under our cover. It doesn’t matter whether or not we intended to provide this cover, though I think many Americans who went to Afghanistan wanted to do exactly that. This is an absolute moral obligation.
Probably a large number of the men and women at risk will want to stay where they are and continue their political struggle; we should make sure they have the resources we can provide. But any people who want to leave, whatever their numbers, should be taken along with our troops and diplomats. We should be preparing to welcome them when they arrive and help them settle in the U.S.

• • •

In the early days of the post 9/11 panic, federal spooks and law enforcement, having been caught with their pants down by the jihadi attacks on New York and the Pentagon, ran wild and dangerous. In addition to instituting security theater at airports, they went on an entrapment binge, rounding up barely assimilated, often half-witted, young immigrant Muslims in what they called terror plots. The feds got credit for protecting us; the pathetic terrorists went to jail for long terms.

It's time to re-examine that binge. Rozina Ali offers a piercing, sympathetic account of the characters and imaginary terror "plots" that came out of that time.

... sweeping legislation and policy changes cleared the way for the authorities to surveil whole communities, monitoring even those who had no connection to terrorism. Prosecutors were now able to build cases from invasive intelligence-gathering tactics that would have been restricted earlier. The U.S. attorney general allowed law enforcement to deploy informants from the earliest stages of a terrorism investigation, contravening the established practice of waiting until there was reasonable indication of criminal activity; the Justice Department further relaxed restrictions in later years, permitting such use of informants even when assessing a potential case. In trials, the government presented evidence gathered by paid civilian informants who latched onto low-income, vulnerable and mentally challenged individuals, urged them toward a plot and, in several cases, even offered money and supplies to carry out bombings. 
... Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the government has imprisoned some 800 people on charges related to international terrorism, according to the Intercept database. But these numbers obscure a complicated reality. Many of these people were not found to have committed any acts of violence. Still, the government managed to achieve a high rate of conviction. Those accused of terrorism often pleaded guilty, usually because they were offered leniency in exchange for information, or because they knew they would almost certainly receive a longer sentence if they went to trial and were convicted. ...
Very much worth reading the whole story ...



In California, one federal judge has already tossed the case against Hamid Hayat of Lodi, a particularly egregious example of law enforcement inventing a threat that wasn't there. 

But hundreds of people remain locked up in federal prisons for thinly sourced accusations. Okay -- we were scared stupid for a season. But can we take a deep breath and look at freeing these people?

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Give me your tired, your poor ...

Yesterday I had to remind myself of a useful bit of wisdom I ran across in a tweet from author Stephen King: "whenever you feel distressed, remember that Donald Trump is not President." (My recollection of his words; King may have written something much more cogent.)

The announcement that the Biden administration would stick with the Trump limit of merely 15,000 admissions of refugees from around the world put them in the same bag with the lately evicted racist bunch. It was infuriating and seemed also simply ignorant. 

Under Obama, the U.S. admitted an average of 70,000 refugees annually, with ups and downs. This isn't a small number, but countries like Canada and Norway admit far more refugees in proportion to their populations. Biden had talked in terms of taking in 60,000, escalating to 125,000 over time.

Trump and Stephen Miller aimed to keep out the Black and Brown, hungry and desperate, out of sheer malice; the Biden administration seemed woefully ignorant of the reality of historic refugee policy. The Pew Center offers a clear summary of how refugee admissions fit in the general immigration picture:

Resettled refugees do not enter their destination country until they have legal permission to do so, because they apply for refugee status while in another country. Refugees are referred by UNHCR and other nongovernmental organizations. The refugee approval process for the U.S. can take several months or years while security checks on prospective refugees are completed. 
Resettled refugees differ from those seeking asylum; asylum seekers are people who migrate and cross a border without first having received legal permission to enter their destination country.

The refugee process has NOTHING to do with the present crush on the southern border of desperate Central Americans seeking asylum from what they hope is a more sympathetic Biden administration. The Biden folks should have anticipated that development, but it has nothing to do with our refugee policy.

Fortunately, the Biden administration quickly got a lot of push back from people who do know what they are talking about:

... “This Biden administration refugee admissions target is unacceptable,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Facing the greatest refugee crisis in our time, there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000. Say it ain’t so, President Joe.”

... Maintaining the Trump-era admissions level of 15,000 leaves thousands of refugees stranded in camps in places like Kenya, Tanzania and Jordan. Roughly 33,000 refugees have already been vetted and are prepared to travel to the United States.

“These are two completely distinct pathways and programs,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the chief executive of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “America has always been able to walk and chew gum.”

... “President Biden has broken his promise to restore our humanity,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington. “We cannot turn our back on refugees around the world.”

Nazanin Ash, the vice president of policy and advocacy for the International Rescue Committee, said postponing an increase in the cap had real-life consequences.

“This is introducing harmful delays and confusion for refugees who remain in vulnerable situations and want to reunify with their families,” Ms. Ash said.

They sent White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, out to say they'll reconsider in May. 

Pressure for refugee admissions is the sort of issue on which the Biden folks can be very usefully subjected to constituent pressure. Let's do it. Here's a smart menu of action suggestions. Lives depend on us.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Friday cat blogging

With Janeway making writing difficult on my lap, let's go with a few outdoor cats today. 

 
Not sure this one has a home, but someone cares.
 
"Don't even think about intruding on my porch!"
Too tired to escape the woman with the camera.

All encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Numerical tidbits

The crowd that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6 didn't amount to very many people. 

The Washington Post farmed out video footage to Carnegie Mellon’s Informedia Project and came up with a count of 9,400 on the west side (Capitol steps and inauguration scaffolding) where the main breach occurred. Figuring in estimates of numbers on the other sides of the building, there may have been an additional 10,000 people wandering around (and some getting inside). 

To put this in some context, the crowd amounted to about half the average pre-pandemic game attendance watching a San Francisco Giants game at Oracle Stadium.

If the Justice Department eventually charges some 450 people for various offenses ranging from trespassing, though violence against the cops, to conspiracy to overthrow the election, that number will amount to about 2.3% of the crowd. A lot of insurrectionists are going to walk -- have they learned anything?

• • •

The Treasury Department today stated definitively that Paul Manafort passed 2016 Trump campaign polling data to a Russian intelligence agent. No more hints -- they just out and said it.

The Treasury Department stated it very matter-of-factly in designating Kilimnik, saying only that “during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy.”

It almost went unnoticed. But now, there’s no real way to deny where this points: Kilimnik giving polling data to Russian intelligence services nearly completes the link that was always missing from the scandal — connecting the Trump campaign to the Russian effort to damage Clinton.

The question remains: how useful is campaign data -- granular breakdowns of voter attitudes and impulses -- in targeting for maximum electoral effect?

I'm not sure we ever measure that. Every pollster and campaign consultant is motivated to tout their findings and the tactics they suggest that derive from them as the winning formula. And when an election is decided by a razor thin margin, they might be right and they might be wrong. I'm sure Russian spooks popped some corks!

And when elections are not close (most of them), it doesn't require any private polling data to figure out which voters and which tactics were needed.

But we're sure to go on polling and modeling and trying to find an edge. And sometimes it may help. But I distrust our capacity to identify which times.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Graveyard of empires indeed ...


And so, finally, President Joe says U.S. troops are to leave Afghanistan, our long war that never found an achievable purpose. 

The easy, obvious and probably inevitable legacy of America’s two-decade-long war in Afghanistan is the recognition that there are limits to U.S. military power, especially when it comes to altering the culture and internal politics of other countries.

... On Wednesday, Biden is expected to announce that he will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. The decision will also bring to a close U.S. involvement in a conflict that has spanned four presidents.

... the rise of China, the danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the threat posed by global warming and the collapse of the Islamic State have all made terrorism seem like less of a pressing threat.  (Washington Post, April 14, 2021)

Biden seems to have held, and still adhere to, what was the closest to a sane view among our imperial leaders after 9/11: focus on giving organized international Islamist terrorism a bloody nose, and then disengage. That would have saved a lot of lives, especially among people in the unfortunate places where George W and Dick the Snarling Veep saw a chance to play faux heroic cowboy.

Of course, it would have been better to catch and offer up the perps of the 9/11 atrocity to international courts. In 2001, the world would have cooperated and cheered. But empires which have not felt their foundations leach away aren't law abiding.

• • •

U.S. foreign policy elites still don't get it.

Just yesterday on Deep State Radio, I heard the often sharp historian of international relations Kori Schake explain that we shouldn't be disturbed that the US spends 12 times as much on the military as any other nation because: 

"in using military force, you never want to cut close to the margin, because you want to win by a lot because that's how you prevent people from challenging you ..."

What shooting war does Schake think the U.S. empire has won in the last seventy-five years?

I wish we didn't have to have this insanity beat out of us -- and so do the peoples of the world. In the end, we get tired of the bleeding.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Late pandemic interlude ...

Our household celebrated vaccination and the coming of spring by visiting the Immersive Van Gogh show yesterday. This expressionist experience is definitely worth sampling if you have a chance. It's continuing in San Francisco through early September in the artfully converted Honda dealership at South Van Ness and Market.

The combination of images, movement, and sound in a cavernous setting is an art medium just coming into its own. I'm sure many efforts in the form will fall short; we saw one such flop at the Guggenheim in Bilbao a couple of years ago. But this successor to the light shows of my youth was very successful.

Some thoughts:

• the creators didn't overdo it. So much pure power is inherent in projecting and morphing powerful images, but this is restrained, elegant.

 
 
• They didn't shrink from the dark side of the suffering painter's vision. This is not all light, stars, and sunflowers.

• For all its visual power, the music makes the show. The soundtrack could have been rousing and overpowering; but like the entirety of the exhibit, it was restrained, despite including a dramatic eruption from the French chanteuse Edith Piaf.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Just the difficult truth

This morning, Erudite Partner and I agreed: along with Brenda, we're flightless hope truthers.

Too busy to blog this morning, but most everyone I know would enjoy this:

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Signs of San Francisco schools opening?

Last week a city Department of Public Works employee loaded a mid-size truck with the contents of a small encampment that had developed along the sidewalk adjacent to the Buena Vista-Horace Mann yard. In January, one of our unhoused neighbors died over there. Since then, a couple of quiet guys had accumulated a growing horde of urban stuff. Gone now. No idea what happened to them.

I guess the kids are finally returning to schools, at least some of them. This school has been empty since March 2020.

This appeared along the fence:

Very polite, even a little precious. The school district is not screaming NO CAMPING!!!!

And perhaps more amazingly, the city seems to be offering a set of rules for where tent camping can be practiced legally during the pandemic.

"How to protect yourself when sleeping in public places."
Click to enlarge to read the rest. Now I don't believe that most unhoused people would dare trust that the city would follow its own rules. But it's something of a wonder that such instructions even exist.

By the way, in preparation for this post, I put some energy into figuring out which schools are opening next week. It wasn't simple. The best list I found is here.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A toughened skin and a softened heart

Alicia Garza's The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart is an engaging and wise account of organizing and movement building. These two activism currents are not the same thing; it's rare to find them both described and appreciated in one volume. It's even more rare (perhaps because these topics are usually the terrain of men?) to find them melded with "a story about [Garza's] personal journey."

There's so much to learn and savor here.

Garza is nationally known as one of the three founders/inspirers of Black Lives Matter. In the Bay community where I live, she's known as one of the most committed, diligent, and often put-upon local organizers around. She comes by her high repute because she has done the work.

Because my long time engagement has been in injecting electoral expertise into community organizing and coalitions, I read with great interest her description of how corporate developers crushed a 2008 proposition sponsored by the community organization where she worked. (I was out of San Francisco for all of this campaign, I realized to my surprise.) POWER sought to curb gentrification in San Francisco's Bayview district, the last bastion of Black community here in Techvillage. Money and developers' inside track with more established, less community-based activist players overwhelmed the POWER effort -- and POWER also found they had not put down deep enough roots in the affected community.
I thought long and hard about what we could have done differently ... My organization, POWER, had always appealed to me because of its unapologetically radical politics and vision -- and yet it wasn't our radical politics that could have won the campaign, given the deep-seated beliefs community members had about how change happened and what kind of change was possible. ... If we'd had more partnerships to draw from, we might have been able to access more of the resources we needed to win ... We came close to winning by agreeing to build with organizations that we didn't consider to be radical and some that we didn't even consider to be progressive. We brought the campaign to those we did not believe would join us, and we allowed ourselves to be surprised -- and we often were. 
Building broad support did not mean we had to water down our politics. It didn't mean we had to be less radical. It meant that being radical and having radical politics were not a litmus test for whether or not one could join our movement. It meant that we created within our campaign an opportunity for more people to be part of the fight to save what was left of Black San Francisco and to see the fight as their own. 
Organizing in the Bayview forever shifted my orientation toward politics. It's where I came to understand that winning is about more than being right -- it is also about how you invite others to be part of a change they may not have even realized they needed. ...
We got all lucky. Garza came out of POWER several years later ready to build for Black freedom and ultimately all of our freedom -- at scale. The little localized organizations that incubate in the foundation-funded nonprofit industrial complex don't easily grow and intersect with genuine passions among unorganized people -- that is, with where most people live. Elections come closest to activating broad swathes of us, but usually organizing in that context is superficial, sacrificing deepening engagement for breadth of contact. It's good to win elections, but it takes an enduring, persistent movement to make much of those victories.

The second half of the book explores movement building out of her experience in Black Lives Matter. Garza discusses unity and solidarity, leadership, being a woman among male organizers, social media, political education and common sense, popular fronts for particular issues, united fronts which share strategy and a vision of power -- and much more. She'd be the first to say it's all a work in progress -- she's still learning.  She enunciates principles:
In a society were anti-Blackness is the fulcrum around which white supremacy functions, building multiracial organizations and movements without disrupting anti-Blackness in all its forms is about as good for a movement as a bicycle is for a fish. 
My feminism is Black, it is queer, and it includes men, masculinity, and manhood that is sustainable and does not depend on the subjugation of women to exist. Until we get there, I continue to expect men in general to sexualize me with or without my consent, will refuse to take me seriously, and take credit and be given credit for that to which they've made very little contribution. I expect them to have a propensity toward violence against me, even those men who claim to love me. And I work hard for the day when men who fight the racialized patriarchy are not the exception to the rule and, more than that, are not merely in solidarity with women. I work for the day when men understand that another masculinity is possible -- but not under the racialized patriarchy.
Her work with the Black Futures Lab has given her hope:
What we've learned through this endeavor is that the conditions for building effective and responsive social movements not only exist but are in their prime at this very moment. ... The most common response we hear from people who have been touched by our project is that they have never been asked what they want their future to look like ... We have launched a policy institute ... We've also created political vehicles that can contend for power inside the political arena. ... We don't believe in supporting leaders who are Black simply because they are Black ... we support Black leaders who have a transformative vision.... 
We do this work because we believe that Black communities deserve to be powerful in every aspect of our lives, and politics should be no exception. ... We are but a small part of the infrastructure that must be built in America to change the conditions that Black communities experience. ...
And Garza has shared a book that every progressive person in this country can learn from. What a gift!

Friday, April 09, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Janeway was sure I needed help changing the ink cartridges in the printer. Or perhaps she thought she'd found a nice cache of plastic to chew on.

Once I got her out of the printer, she settled in to watch me work.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Does anything happen when cops kill?

Five years ago, two San Francisco cops, Officer Michael Mellone and Sgt. Nate Steger, shot and killed Luis Góngora Pat while the homeless Mayan man sat on the sidewalk in the Mission neighborhood. SFPD Internal Affairs found they breached all time and distance policies in Luis's killing. Here, Luis' cousin, asks us to call our District Attorney and ask whether his office is doing anything about the case.

Chesa Boudin, District Attorney: (628) 652-4000; districtattorney@sfgov.org

I called. You can too.

Contemporary taxonomy

Editorial cartoonists have identified a dangerous critter on the loose in the land. Here are a few more sightings.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Capital weighing in

Ever since the misbegotten 2016 presidential election, I've been haunted by what the graphic above shows. Somehow Donald Trump was able to win despite the fact that Hillary Clinton won the counties which provide 64 percent of the nation's GDP -- a rough measure of economic strength.

The 2020 election pattern was similar: Joe Biden won a few more counties -- counties which provide 66 percent of GDP. Democrats win where the country's wealth comes from. GOPers win all those expanses of land in economically hurting places. Only the Electoral College makes it close.

Now I'm a good loosely left-ish progressive, so I tend to expect that corporate capital gets what it wants, most of the time. I'm not happy about that, but I observe its truth. So I find the electoral pattern a little puzzling. Would capital long be content to be ruled by a party to hails from places that are failing?

Turns out, of course, the GOPers offer lots of goodies to corporate capital, in particular weak regulation and low taxes. And corporations usually donate to both parties, making sure they keep a foot in both camps.

But capital that's winning is far more forward looking than most individual politicians. It has to be, to avoid being a casualty of capitalism's unceasing waves of creative destruction. And hanging in with the parts of the country that are failing economically is backward looking.

There are all sorts of specific circumstances that stand out in the current tiff between Mitch McConnell and such behemoths as Coke and Delta Airlines and Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Major League Baseball. Georgia's voter suppression law is thoroughly rancid and the proposed Texas voting restrictions might turn out to be even worse.

But behind it all, is the reality that business is going to go where the profits are. And that's where the money and the people are. 

There are wedge opportunities for Democrats here. At the very least, we ought to be able to show that it might profit capital to make something like 64 percent of its investment in politicians on the forward looking side. That's both where the votes and the economic opportunity are located. The squishy, but widespread, corporate recoil from outright destruction of democratic rights is a good omen. Corporate capital is showing which way it thinks the wind is blowing.