Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day 2021

That flag flying beside a post office in San Francisco's poorest neighborhood is just about the definition of "tattered." It's condition seems appropriate to the condition of the republic.
That black banner underneath -- that's just another generation's version of the Big Lie. The fiction was convenient to another generation's Republicans to pretend that captives and missing-in-action soldiers had been left behind when the U.S. was driven out of Vietnam. There were no such prisoners. Who cared what torment that Big Lie caused the relatives of soldiers who were never coming home?  Hard to believe Post Offices still have to fly that Lie.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first noticed the casualty counts that closed those broadcasts, but at some point it dawned on me that boys in America grow up and go to war, and some of them die there. American boys had been dying in Vietnam for my entire life, and I assumed they would always be dying there.
My father never went to war. ... Young men of my father’s generation grew up during wartime and generally expected to serve when their turn came. No generation since has felt the same way. There are compelling reasons for that shift — the protracted catastrophe in Vietnam not least — but I’m less interested in why it happened than in what it tells us about our country now. ...
... the coronavirus pandemic became a perfect illustration of James’s “moral equivalent of war.” We weren’t fighting a human enemy, but we were fighting for our lives even so. This national calamity, this invasion by a destructive and unstoppable force, was our chance to come together across every possible division. ... Plenty of Americans — essential workers, first-responders, hospital staff, teachers and many others — lost their lives because they made such sacrifices. Millions more complied unhesitatingly with measures designed to keep the most vulnerable among us safe. But too, too many of us did not. Too many were hostile to the very idea that they should alter their behavior even in the smallest way for the sake of strangers. ...
... If Vietnam exploded the unquestioned commitment to national service, the coronavirus pandemic should have been the very thing to bring it back. That it did exactly the opposite tells us something about who we are as human beings, and who we are as a nation. There is more to mourn today than I ever understood before.
I feel very lucky. The pandemic here in San Francisco did evoke civic solidarity; few cities enjoyed as much compliance with stay-at-home directives. 
As of today, 77 percent of us have received at least one vaccine shot. Over the duration of the health crisis since March 2020, 546 San Franciscans are recorded as dying from COVID. A disproportionate quantity of cases and deaths have been in the Latinx community. And very local Latinx-led community organizations have risen to the challenges, distributing food, offering COVID tests, and then organizing vaccinations. 

None of that is to say that city or state leadership was perfect, only that they weren't so bad that they stood in the way of solidarity offered by local leadership.

National leadership clearly was that bad. Now the GOPers have nothing left but their Big Lie -- and apparently aim to end flawed but aspirational democracy as we've known it. 
If the lives sacrificed defending that sad-sack flag mean anything, it means it's time for the majority of us to out vote and out organize Republican lies.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Yesterday I was introduced to a new acquaintance

Her name is Lucretia.
She lives under the bumper of a broken down RV next to an encampment of barely sheltered people on an obscure San Francisco street.
Her human friends who live nearby make sure she has chicken feed. They were thrilled to introduce her. I don't think she's headed for a pot -- but it is a precarious life out there.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Where the pandemic is reinforcing concern for the common good

Not all small Himalayan states adjacent to India are in the terrible straits to which the coronavirus has reduced Nepal.

Thimphu, Bhutan's capital from above

 The tiny, rigidly well-organized, little constitutional monarchy in adjacent Bhutan responded to the advent of vaccines with the kingdom's customary efficiency. According to NPR:
It took less than two weeks for the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to vaccinate almost all of its eligible population.

The country's vaccination campaign kicked off on March 27. By April 8, according to the Ministry of Health, 93% of eligible adults had gotten their first dose. Officials said 472,139 people between ages 18 and 104 had been vaccinated as of that date, and they urged other eligible individuals to follow suit. 

In a statement, Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo described the campaign as a "sense of purpose that each of us is embracing to protect our country and the people we love." She urged individuals to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities — as well as King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. ...

... State-owned newspaper Kuensel stated in an editorial that the country's efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic have been "exemplary right from the beginning," thanks to leadership, front-line workers and what the paper describes as a cooperative public.

While noting it's premature to celebrate before people have had their second doses, it said that the country's size had certainly contributed to the vaccine's successful rollout — and that this has implications for tackling other issues related to the economy, unemployment and technology.

"As we realise the advantage of our smallness from the vaccination programme, it is a lesson too valuable to not replicate in our other endeavours," it concluded.

 Bhutan may not be a paradise of happiness, but cultivating a societal ethic of care for the common good sure pays off in a pandemic.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Sometimes Janeway goes limp and just lets her long legs hang.
Sometimes, a hanging tail tells a tale: there must be a bird out there. Sorry Janeway, you may not go outside to chase it!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

What happens in India ...

... doesn't stay in India. 

A view of Katmandu. Lovely, but no place to be in a pandemic.

At least that's what occurred to me when I saw via the BBC that:

Nepali health officials say the current daily positivity rate is nearly 50%, meaning that one in two people are testing positive for Covid.

There's a lot of back and forth between India and Nepal, a lot of itinerant laborers. Those of us who've visited the country may think of it as the exotic gateway to the Himalayas, but interchange with the Indian colossus to the south keeps the economy afloat. It's not a place with much effective government; the emerging Covid crisis has brought down the most recent one. And it's not a place with much health infrastructure. When I got pneumonia in Katmandu, I felt mighty lucky to go a British clinic.

The international aid agency Mercy Corps has workers on the ground:

“In March, as few as 70 people a day tested positive for COVID-19 in Nepal. Today, this number is more than 100 times higher - a daily record of 9,070 cases were recorded on Thursday - and is overwhelming Nepal’s fragile health structures.

"The communities we are working with are petrified. They have seen their friends and family members in India fall ill, many tragically dying, and now are seeing the very same situation hit Nepal as some 400,000 migrant workers return home with no money in their pockets and the virus spreads rapidly. ...

"Nepal’s medical system is weaker than India’s, reliant on India for crucial supplies like oxygen cylinders, which India itself is short of now. Nepali hospitals are already running out of beds, and caseloads are expected to continue to rise. Less than 10% of people have received at least one vaccine dose, and Nepal is entirely dependent on other countries such as India to deliver vaccines. ..."

Nepalis are a tough people; they have to be. Around here in the U.S., we can begin to believe we're coming out of this coronavirus shit show ... but so much of the world is just now seeing the disease take off.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

When second-rate cranks usurp leadership

Some Harvard students surveyed their professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences about their political leanings last year. This represents what they found out:

It's apparently just as the right wing fears; there are vanishingly few self-proclaimed conservatives on the faculty.

Now Harvard may be exceptional, in the sense that people who have landed a job there may feel freer than the average academic brainiac to be forthright about their political opinions. But it does seem to be true that academics by and large lean progressive, or at least in the direction of the Democratic Party. And they sure aren't Republicans. Why such an extreme disproportion?

Paul Krugman has a worthwhile observation on how that imbalance has developed among his own tribe: economists of high repute. 

The field I know best, economics, contains (or used to contain) quite a few Republicans with solid academic reputations. Like just about every academic discipline, the field leans Democratic, but much less so than other social sciences and even the hard sciences. But the G.O.P. has consistently preferred to get its advice from politically reliable cranks.

The contrast with the Biden team, by the way, is extraordinary. At this point it’s almost hard to find a genuine expert on tax policy, labor markets, etc. — an expert with an independent reputation who expects to return to a nonpolitical career in a couple of years — who hasn’t joined the administration.

And because the Republican Party has repelled people who actually know how the world works, it has filled up with grifter politicians who only know how to fall in line for the sake of winning or holding on to power. And this has made them patsies for an anti-factual authoritarian leader.

... the predominance of craven careerists is what made the Republican Party so vulnerable to authoritarian takeover.

Surely a great majority of Republicans in Congress know that the election wasn’t stolen. Very few really believe that the storming of the Capitol was a false-flag antifa operation or simply a crowd of harmless tourists. But decades as a monolithic, top-down enterprise have filled the G.O.P. with people who will follow the party line wherever it goes.

So if Trump or a Trump-like figure declares that we have always been at war with East Asia, well, his party will say that we’ve always been at war with East Asia. If he says he won a presidential election in a landslide, never mind the facts, they’ll say he won the election in a landslide.

The point is that neither megalomania at the top nor rage at the bottom explains why American democracy is hanging by a thread. Cowardice, not craziness, is the reason government by the people may soon perish from the earth.

If democracy is going to survive in this country, it's going to take not only policy smarts, but also what so many Republican leaders so transparently lack: commitment to truth, discipline, hard work, and, probably from too many among us, sacrifice for the good of the community. Democracy depends on widespread civic virtues. 

It's great having a Krugman on our side; heck, it's good having most professors.

But democracy has to be the vision and goal of millions of ordinary aroused citizens or we won't keep it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

On the anniversary of a murder by cop ...

In the year since George Floyd gasped his last breaths, I've walked and photographed 73 out of the 596 precincts in the city. The photos demonstrate that sheltering-in-place San Franciscans, in every corner of the city, have posted an amazing variety of messages in support of the demand for greater racial justice, expressing their foundational recognition that Black Lives Matter.

Some present a complex array of worthy demands.
Some blend with their surroundings.
A few offer practical support. 
Some recall other historic popular struggles.
Some support the neighbors.
Some are art.
Some take advantage of natural features.
Some manifestations provide small commercial opportunities.
Some aim to raise the banal to something more enduring.
Some rocks will not be moved.

I have friends who dismiss all this San Franciscan signage as performative virtue signaling.  They are not all wrong. What concrete good does displaying BLM messages do? 

But on the other hand, isn't some level of consciousness that something has to be done a prerequisite to more justice? I think so. Every sign seems to me a momentary, possibly fleeting, blow against apathy and inertia. It's up to all of us to make these manifestations more.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Beware the implicit message ...

I find this headline ominous. You might expect that a poltical party which repeatedly lost elections would be struggling to assemble a majority coalition. But that's not how a Washington Post headline writer sees things.

Republicans -- too many of them anyway -- don't seem to be focused on assembling a coalition made up of enough voters to win elections with the most votes. You know, the usual 50 percent of the electorate, plus 1. Voter suppression measures, baseless recounts, and lying seem to be their toolbox to resume what they consider their proper status as the governing party.

And too much of the media neglect to critique the implicit lie.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Thinking about conflict

Yascha Mounk wants us all to get along, somehow. He is a political scientist who has written urgently about the rise of populist, demagogic politics. He currently produces a podcast and a Substack devoted to trying to discern how we might moderate our political polarization. In a recent episode, he interviewed journalist Amanda Ripley about her concept (and new book) High Conflict whose premise seems to be that our divides are, if not created, at least exacerbated, by our being overrun by "conflict entrepreneurs, humiliation, and false binaries."

Ripley's "conflict entrepreneurs" seem to be people who in any situation enjoy acting as trolls. Like, for example, Donald Trump.

Goodness knows, this is a society which goes in for humiliation -- Ripley has also written about education, the venue in which too many of us are successfully taught they are "no good," stupid.

And then there are her "false binaries." Since I just wrote a post asking for more clarity in recognizing irreconcilable political binaries -- binaries I believe are anything but false -- Ripley's comments presented a challenge.

Here's a much abbreviated excerpt from the discussion between Mounk and Ripley:
Mounk:...  in [healthy] conflict, I might have a demand, I might have something that’s really important to me—I’m a worker who wants a raise, or I’m part of some identity group that feels inadequately recognized and valued—but there is a goal where if I make real progress towards it, or if I reach it completely, then I’m happy to stand down. Whereas in high conflict, it actually feels like the goal is hating the other person. ...

Ripley: In high conflict, emotion is driving the train. I admit to that myself. I remember, early on in Trump’s tenure, he did something—I can’t remember what it was, something about China. I remember having this sudden thought that, actually, that was not a bad idea—but not even wanting to have the thought in my head, let alone verbalize it. Then I realized I felt like if I gave him an inch, he’d take a mile—as if we were in a relationship. It’s a trick of the brain, as if he and I were in conversation, which we’re not. So, it’s a fear. It’s a lack of trust. It’s easier, in a way, to keep things binary: bad, good. ...

Mounk: ... It’s like you're desecrating the sacredness of your cause by thinking about how you might put it in a way that’ll actually attract support. Of course, we live in a democracy, and that means you have to think about majorities, and that can sometimes be a slightly dirty business. But if you actually cared about the cause, you would be willing to reframe your argument in the ways that makes it most likely for your cause to happen—whereas I think it’s an indication that you care more about being on the good side when you become reluctant to do that. ... 
Ripley: ... We keep seeing it like we cannot solve the problems we want to solve. ...The behavior is a fantasy that we carry, that the enemy will vanish from the face of the earth. It reminds me of how if you look at the research on emotion in conflict, anger is good because it assumes that you want the other side to be better. Hatred, contempt, is not easy to work with because it assumes that there is no redemption and annihilation is really the only logical solution. ... 
In high conflict, you’ll eventually start to mimic the behavior of your adversaries to different degrees. You’ll end up hurting the thing you hold most dear, most likely: In every high conflict I’ve looked at, that’s what happened. ...

Mounk: Do you think that there is a way out of high conflict—that it’s not easy, it’s not straightforward, but there are steps we can take to actually get out of it?

Ripley: ...What you’re trying to do is slow down conflict. ... Another thing is to investigate the understory. We talked about how there’s the thing you fight about and the thing it’s really about. Get really curious about what that thing is underneath it—not only for you, but also for the people on the other side. Most big controversial policy debates in the United States are about fear. But we don’t talk about that as much as we do the policy. At this level of conflict, the fear is driving the train.
This conversation didn't wean me from believing that some binaries need to be highlighted rather than defused. Racism, nationalism, empowered greed, gender rigidities -- these are simply wrong. I am not ashamed of sacralizing the struggle against them, though I take Ripley's (and most every moral philosopher's) point that the danger in such conflict is becoming more like the opponent. And also that it is worth remembering that the other side operates from within its terrors.

Yet it's an ethical imperative to say loudly what's so wrong. We are living under threat from a minority political party that would rather tear down the country than share it by majority rule with people who think differently.

Mounk's book on populism surprised me by recognizing the power of people in the streets in the struggle for democracy. He may have been more insightful in that than he seems to me in his current project.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Two takes on Christian nationalism

Maybe I'd have warmed to this book more if I hadn't just come off a long election campaign when I read it. Election campaigns are binary -- votes say up or down, "yes" or "no" -- to candidates and their policies. And in last fall's election, the issue of Donald Trump, "yes" or "no," was also a proxy for Christian nationalism, "yes" or "no." And for the moment, "no" won and the democracy gets to live to fight another day.

Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States by sociologists Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, as befits the conventions of their discipline, makes discussion of who is a Christian nationalist murky and complex. Christian nationalists are human (in addition to being dangerous toxins in the body politic) so naturally there are complexities in their relationship to their repressive ideal. But I'm really only interested in stomping out their influence.

The Whitehead and Perry paradigm for overcomplicating our understanding of Christian (mostly white) nationalism is an approach, borrowed from the marketing world, which is called in its arena of origin, "psychobehavioral segmentation." That is, they analyze surveys of a lot of people on a lot of questions and use the responses to divide the U.S. population into groups in relation to Christian nationalism. This particular effort creates four such groups.

Rejectors, Resisters, Accommodators, Ambassadors
The result is a spectrum in which a majority falls between two extremes. From the label, can you guess which of these groups are the extremes?  ... I wasn't so certain either.

Ambassadors on the extreme right are the full-on Christian nationalists. As is implied by the structure of Whitehead and Perry's model, it turns out most people don't live at the extremes and are sometimes confused by those who do.

These authors want us to know that not all Christian nationalists are evangelicals, and vice versa. Nor is religiosity and personal piety in and of itself predictive of Christian nationalism. Islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, gender rigidity, racism, and the like are entwined with Christian nationalism, though not exactly co-extensive. Yes, people are complicated.

The backdrop of any investigation of Christian nationalism needs to be the insight these folks lost the culture (and so many of their own kids) years ago; this painful loss drives them to be so dangerous. They would rather tear the country up than share. And events since January 6 show they've got an entire Republican party at their back.

Whitehead and Perry understand where their investigation takes them, though they sure go through a lot of rigamarole to get there:

... strong support for Christian nationalism is -- without a doubt -- a threat to a pluralistic democratic society. ... Christian nationalist ideology is fundamentally focused on gaining and maintaining access to power. ... Because the embrace of Christian nationalism fuses national and religious symbols and identities, it is able to legitimate its desires for the country in the will of the Christian God, bringing the transcendent to bear on everyday realities. ...There is no room for disagreement.
For all the human complexities of its adherents, Christian nationalism can't be understood or dialogued out of existence -- it must be resisted in all its shapes -- and rendered powerless.

• • •

Elizabeth Neumann is a former civil servant in the Trump Department of Homeland Security, a lapsed Republican; she resigned after she had named violence from "rightwing extremism" as an emerging threat. Her description of how Christian nationalism fed the January 6 is simple and clear.

... It’s subtle: Like, you had the Christian flag and the American flag at the front of the church, and if you went to a Christian school, you pledged allegiance to the Christian flag and the American flag. There was this merger that was always there when I was growing up. And it was really there for the generation ahead of me, in the ’50s and ’60s. Some people interpreted it as: Love of country and love of our faith are the same thing. And for others, there’s an actual explicit theology.
There was this whole movement in the ’90s and 2000s among conservatives to explain how amazing [America’s] founding was: Our founding was inspired by God, and there’s no explanation for how we won the Revolutionary War except God, and, by the way, did you know that the founders made this covenant with God? It’s American exceptionalism but goes beyond that. It says that we are the next version of Israel from the Old Testament, that we are God’s chosen nation, and that is a special covenant — a two-way agreement with God. We can’t break it, and if we do, what happened to Israel will happen to us: We will be overrun by whatever the next Babylon is, taken into captivity, and He will remove His blessing from us. 
What [threatens] that covenant? The moment we started taking prayer out of [public] schools and allowing various changes in our culture — [the legalization of] abortion is one of those moments; gay marriage is another. They see it in cataclysmic terms: This is the moment, and God’s going to judge us. They view the last 50 years of moral decline as us breaking our covenant, and that because of that, God’s going to remove His blessing. When you paint it in existential terms like that, a lot of people feel justified to carry out acts of violence in the name of their faith.
This is what the resisters are up against.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Cajoling eventually worked. But not without some feline resistance. Scene observed while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Cycle of pain

I didn't want to comment today about Israel/Palestine, but how can I not? Watching this horror happening on the other side of the world distracts from everything else.

Last night I heard a Palestinian American say that the widespread Black Lives Matter eruption in the U.S. last summer had changed something in how people in this country see the news: "there's a higher level of intuitive awareness" of colonial oppression; more of us, more easily, watch Israel pounding Gaza through that lens. The Times confirms something is changing, probably underplaying the magnitude of the attitudinal shift.

Peter Beinart explains why denouncing Hamas is not an ethically adequate response for foreign observers -- or for Israelis. 

It’s not Hamas’s Islamism that keeps it from recognizing Israel. It’s simply good politics. In the eyes of most Palestinians, Fatah’s strategy of recognizing Israel has failed. It has led not to Palestinian statehood but to deepened occupation. That creates a market for a more hardline alternative. Eliminate Islamism from Palestinian politics and some leftist or nationalist faction would fill that same hardline niche and become America’s new bogeyman.

... whether Hamas exists or not, some Palestinians will continue responding to the violence of state oppression with violence of their own. There’s nothing unusual about this. Nelson Mandela supported violence—in the 1960s he helped turn the African National Congress from a nonviolent organization into one that employed armed struggle. The Irish Republican Army planted bombs across England. Malcolm X and the Black Panthers said Black Americans needed guns. The American revolutionaries used violence. Some of the activists opposed to Myanmar’s brutal military regime are taking up arms as we speak.

My point isn’t normative: Nothing justifies Hamas’ rockets against Israeli civilians, which may constitute a war crime.

It’s descriptive. Eliminating Hamas won’t eliminate Palestinian violence any more than eliminating the ANC or IRA would have eliminated Black South African or Irish Catholic violence in the 1980s. The only way to stop oppressed people from responding to the violence of oppression with violence of their own is to end their oppression. ...

Fundamentally, Israel doesn’t have a Hamas problem. It has a Palestinian problem. It dominates and brutalizes another people. Until that domination and brutalization ends, every cease-fire will be merely an interval until the next war, regardless of which parties lead the Palestinian struggle.

This cartoon dates from a previous round of Palestinian/Israeli hostilities. That's appropriate. The atrocity just circles back around. The United States could stop funding Israel and that might help, but Israelis and Palestinians will have to figure out how to end the cycle.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The government won't say ...

They are still at it. The government is still placing some set of persons on a "no-fly list" and refusing to say why or provide any public review. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, these cases attracted some notice. Now, not so much so.

The Los Angeles Times reports a current story:

[Ahmad] Chebli is an American citizen, born in Chicago, who tried to board a plane in Beirut in November 2018 to return to his home in the United States but was barred from the flight on orders of the American government. No one would explain why. For a month, he says, he was not allowed to return with his family to Michigan, where he works as an engineer in the auto industry. 
Eventually he was told that his name had appeared on the U.S. government’s no-fly list of known or suspected terrorists. He was granted a one-time waiver to return home, but he remained on the list. And when he asked — repeatedly — why he was there and how he could be removed, he received no answer. He wrote to the Department of Homeland Security to no avail. He wrote to the FBI but was told their records were exempt from disclosure.
Chebli believes the FBI put him on the list in order to punish him for refusing to be an informant in his religious community. After enlisting the ACLU in a lawsuit against the government, the feds took him off the list -- but still refuse to explain why he was ever listed.

“It’s infuriating that they can jerk someone around like this for two years,” said Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “And what they stubbornly refuse to do in case after case and situation after situation is to overhaul their system so it doesn’t violate due process.”
The struggle for a right for citizens to travel has long history. Nearly always, the government stonewalls and obfuscates rather than stating its case (if there is one.) 

Full disclosure: This issue is personal for me. Erudite Partner and I were told at the San Francisco airport in 2002 that we were on the no fly list. Through the ACLU, we sought disclosure about this secret list in a federal suit that dragged on through 2006. The government never revealed why we'd been stopped but neither of us subsequently had additional trouble and the ACLU was awarded court costs in the lawsuit.

Immigration Courts: nothing like what you have imagined

More on the charade that immigration courts pass off as process. The National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) is a voluntary association of their judges. In this video, Judge Ashley Tabaddor explains how these pseudo-courts really operate.

Another frustrated and exhausted judge offered his assessment after quitting, reported here. Immigration law can only be administered justly by independent courts -- and that is not what exists.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Immigration courts: those who know paint a dismal picture

It looks like a courtroom -- but that's not really the truth.
William Hanrahan had been a prosecutor and a state judge before he took on managing the federal immigration court in San Francisco. He lasted 14 months before quitting in frustration. If we needed more testimony to the travesty legal process that the so-called immigration courts perform, he's eager to offer the sad facts.

Hanrahan said he encountered a “soul-crushing bureaucracy” that he found shockingly unlike the regular American legal system. After little more than a year in the job, he called it quits this month, frustrated, he said, with a system run by the U.S. Department of Justice and subject to its political whims, a top-down management style that throttled innovation and slow-walked modernizing reforms, and a disconcerting proximity to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys who act as the court’s prosecutors.

... Ultimately, Hanrahan said, it’s the immigrants themselves seeking a chance to stay in the U.S. who are left bearing the burden of the disorganization. The unusual management of the immigration courts by the Justice Department means judges are ultimately hired by and answerable to the attorney general, who is the nation’s top prosecutor and a political appointee, usually with a policy agenda.

... “I just thought I was going to actually be a judge,” Hanrahan said. “They’re not real courts. When I first started, I truly felt like a stranger in a strange land. ... It was not consistent with my training and experience as a judge.”

... “Every day that [their] case is pending is a cloud of uncertainty over their futures,” Hanrahan said. “You can’t make plans, you can’t buy a house, you might not be able to get married. Having children, all the kind of the daily decisions of life, the future is just held in abeyance, it’s got to be really distressing. And then of course the effect on the children, the children who are American citizens, not knowing whether dad’s going to be deported.”

... Biden has changed the court’s top leadership, but the political control and micromanaging policies that confoundingly tie judges hands remain intact, Hanrahan says. “I did hold out hope that there would be some change with the Biden administration, but I did not see any indication whatsoever of the fundamental organization of the agency changing,” he said.

... “These [migrants] are not the people I was dealing with in my criminal rotation in the circuit court, these are not people doing bad things to other people, by and large,” he continued. “These were people out in the hallway cuddling their children and reading stories to them waiting for their cases to be called. There are people that were working long hard days at really tough jobs, jobs that most Americans wouldn’t take for low wages, they were paying taxes but getting very little in return.”

Representative Zoe Lofgren is pushing a Congressional overhaul of the immigration court system. She wants the courts removed from Justice Department authority.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association --  some of the few people with an intimate acquaintance and an overview of the system -- say it's time for structural change. They propose a three part reform:

Create an Independent Immigration Court. To operate in a balanced and fair manner, the immigration courts must be separate and independent from DOJ. Congress should pass legislation creating an independent, Article I immigration court. 
Restore due process. Congress should ensure that DOJ and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) reverse policies that rush cases at the cost of due process and encourage them to rescind policies that unduly restrict access to asylum and other forms of relief. 
Support the right to counsel. Having legal counsel is the single most important factor in ensuring migrants get a fair day in court and in ensuring due process. Congress should pass legislation guaranteeing appointed counsel and access to counsel, and fund Executive Branch programs that support the right to counsel.
Early evidence suggests the Biden administration is unlikely spend its small store of legislative capital on these measures, but justice advocates can't stop pushing. Lives are at stake.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Open season on progressive prosecutors

We've put up a new window sign: the usual suspects -- police unions, Republicans, and cranky Democratic Party "moderates" who function as the opposition to progressive Democrats in this one party town -- are hot to recall our new District Attorney. Elected in 2019, Chesa Boudin is a nightmare to the throw-away-the-keys, tough-on-crime brigade. Within the considerable constraints imposed by the pandemic year, Boudin has made a lot of moves we elected him for:

• reduced the jail population by 40 percent during the pandemic by releasing misdemeanor and short time offenders.

• joined progressive country supervisors in seeking to bar the police from hiring officers with records of misconduct in other departments. [To which this citizen can only say, well, duh ... ]

• joined other progressive prosecutors in calling on the State Bar of California to prohibit elected prosecutors from accepting campaign contributions from police unions. That reform is going to take a broad political push.

No wonder the usual suspects don't like him. He's working for structural reforms that could help get a fairer shake for communities for whom there's been little justice in "Justice." 

Boudin isn't the only "progressive prosecutor" under attack as a rather bad-humored citizenry emerges from pandemic misery. 

As a San Franciscan, I'm dubious about including George Gascon in this category; he wasn't much for charging our cops when they killed with only flimsy excuses. But, elected to reform the Los Angeles D.A.'s office in 2020, he seems to have changed his ways in his new job. He has angered the usual suspects by refusing to prosecute juveniles as adults, suggested that long sentences accomplish nothing except cost the state money and separate families, and begun to re-examine cases in which cops killed without apparent legal basis. Los Angeles Times reporters James Queally and Joe Mozingo have written an in-depth examination of Gascon's new initiatives. His early record seems impressive, especially in a city which has long suffered from regressive prosecution policies dictated by an aggressive police union.

This week, Philadelphia will see whether progressive D.A. Larry Krasner can survive police and politicians aiming to ride a backlash against new criminal justice priorities. In a city famous for electing a fascist cop, Frank Rizzo, as mayor more than once, Krasner's election in 2017 signaled new times. His record before that campaign: successfully litigating against civil rights infringements by police. He promised "to stop prosecuting drug possession and prostitution and to hold the police accountable for misconduct." But during the pandemic year, murders have increased by 40 percent, though still less than in the bad old days of the 1980s and 90s. A pro-cop former prosecutor who Krasner let go from is office is waving the "law and order" flag in the Democratic primary. We'll find out Tuesday who has the voters on their side. The winner will be a likely shoo-in in the general election.

UPDATE 5/18: Looks like Krasner won his primary decisively.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

That was the week that was ...

Anyone else remember the satirical TV show?

Despite the surprise from the C.D.C., revoking the mask advice in the U.S., in most settings, for most vaccinated people, many of us found the past week disturbing.

Susan Glazer:

With Biden in the White House, many people have relished the chance to unplug from Donald Trump—and politics altogether—in recent months, secure in the knowledge that the new President will not tweet us into nuclear war. (“Fire and fury”!) Our late nights and early mornings and weekends are no longer shadowed by the ever-present uncertainty that was the Trump-era news cycle. 
For those of us who are still paying attention, however, there is a new worry, and it has to do with what Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans did this week. Trump, defeated and disgraced by the events of January 6th, might have disappeared as previous Presidents who lost reëlection did. But his Party’s continued embrace means that Trump will not fade slowly into the Mar-a-Lago sunset. “He’s going to unravel the democracy to come back into power,” Cheney told the “Today” show on Thursday. It is not over, not at all.

Or flat out terrifying, per Charles Blow:

Panic fatigue is real. I get it. 
Anger is exhausting. I get it. 
But what are your options? Acquiescence? Passivity? Ignoring the blare of the alarms because you have tired of the tension? 
The Republican Party as it is now positioned is no longer simply a part of our political system; it is a threat to our political system. The party has converted itself into the enemy within. 
The question is whether we’re too tired from the Trump years to see what is happening and mount an actual defense.

And a sensible comforting thought from Democratic  message guy Dan Pfeiffer

We all need to recognize that [democracy] is a marathon not a sprint and therefore checking in and out and/or saving up some energy for next year is totally appropriate and necessary ...

Friday, May 14, 2021

Friday cat blogging

You'd never know she's inhabited by a demon, would you? If I'll just sit still, Janeway will sometimes spend several hours on my lap getting her beauty sleep. She's had something of an odd upbringing: hardly ever a moment when no human was at home to offer her attention. If there is ever post-pandemic life, I think she'll be lonely sometimes.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

War and the Nakba

The headlines are offensive to rational and ethical intelligence.

Death toll climbs, protests intensify as Israel and Gaza slip toward war (Washington Post)
Israel-Gaza: Fears of war as violence escalates (BBC)

What we are seeing in Israel/Palestine is not "war," but a modern military power, amply equipped by the United States, crushing a rebellious people crying out against ongoing injustice. Yes, both sides are led by some combination of bumbling fools and moral monsters; monsters thrive in conditions of injustice. And most people under the batons and tear gas and bombs and rockets just want to keep their heads down. This isn't "war" in any meaningful sense of the word.

Peter Beinart first entered my consciousness as one of a group of bright young intellectual twerps writing in The New Republic in the early '00s who tweaked other progressives by applauding George. W. Bush's Iraq invasion. They were riding high for a minute. And then they watched their precious pseudo-realism collapse amid lies, futility, and torture. And some became different sorts of people whose wisdom is deeper for having once crashed.

Beinart has since allowed himself to evolve into a highly ethical explorer of justice, rooted in his Jewish tradition. He is a journalism professor, the author of The Beinart Notebook -- and also the editor at large of Jewish Currents. And as we approach May 15, when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba -- their forced expulsion from their homes to enable creation of the Israeli state -- he has offered a detailed, thoroughly sourced exploration Palestinian refugee experience and what he thinks is the only remedy.

Palestinian displays keys to his former family home.

What follow are short excerpts from a longish article. To do Beinart justice, go read it all by clicking on the title. (Beinart has placed a short version of this in the New York Times -- but do go read the whole thing.)

In Jewish discourse, [the] refusal to forget the past—or accept its verdict—evokes deep pride. The late philosopher Isaiah Berlin once boasted that Jews “have longer memories” than other peoples. And in the late 19th century, Zionists harnessed this long collective memory to create a movement for return to a territory most Jews had never seen. “After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion,” proclaims Israel’s Declaration of Independence. The State of Israel constitutes “the realization” of this “age-old dream.” 
Why is dreaming of return laudable for Jews but pathological for Palestinians?  ...
• • •
The Israeli leaders who justify expelling Palestinians today in order to make Jerusalem a Jewish city are merely paraphrasing the Jewish organizations that have spent the last several decades justifying the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 in order to create a Jewish state. What Ta-Nehisi Coates has observed about the United States, and Desmond Tutu has observed about South Africa—that historical crimes that go unaddressed generally reappear, in different guise—is true for Israel-Palestine as well. 
Refugee return therefore constitutes more than mere repentance for the past. It is a prerequisite for building a future in which both Jews and Palestinians enjoy safety and freedom in the land each people calls home.
• • •
Since it took the expulsion of Palestinians to create a viable Jewish state, many Jews fear—with good reason—that acknowledging and rectifying that expulsion would challenge Jewish statehood itself. This fear is often stated in numerical terms: If too many Palestinian refugees return, Jews might no longer constitute a majority. But the anxiety goes deeper. 
Why do so few Jewish institutions teach about the Nakba? Because it is hard to look the Nakba in the eye and not wonder, at least furtively, about the ethics of creating a Jewish state when doing so required forcing vast numbers of Palestinians from their homes. Why do so few Jewish institutions try to envision return? Because doing so butts up against pillars of Jewish statehood: for instance, the fact that the Israel Land Council, which controls 93% of the land inside Israel’s original boundaries, reserves almost half of its seats for representatives of the Jewish National Fund, which defines itself as “a trustee on behalf of the Jewish People.” Envisioning return requires uprooting deeply entrenched structures of Jewish supremacy and Palestinian subordination. It requires envisioning a different kind of country. ...  
To ensure that this reckoning never comes, the Israeli government and its American Jewish allies have offered a range of legal, historical, and logistical arguments against refugee return. These all share one thing in common: Were they applied to any group other than Palestinians, American Jewish leaders would likely dismiss them as immoral and absurd.
• • •
Efforts to face and redress historic wrongs are rarely simple, rapid, uncontested, or complete. Seventeen years after the end of apartheid, the South African government in March unveiled a special court to fast-track the redistribution of land stolen from Black South Africans; some white farmers worry it could threaten their livelihood. In Canada, where the acknowledgement of native lands has become standard practice at public events, including hockey games, some conservative politicians are pushing back. So are some Indigenous leaders, who claim the practice has become meaningless. Thousands of US schools now use The New York Times’s 1619 curriculum, which aims to make slavery and white supremacy central to the way American history is taught. Meanwhile, some Republican legislators are trying to ban it.  
But as fraught and imperfect as efforts at historical justice can be, it is worth considering what happens when they do not occur. There is a reason that the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates ends his famous essay on reparations for slavery with the subprime mortgage crisis that bankrupted many Black Americans in the first decade of the 21st century, and that the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama—best known for memorializing lynchings—ends its main exhibit with the current crisis of mass incarceration. The crimes of the past, when left unaddressed, do not remain in the past.

• • •

“We are what we remember,” wrote the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “As with an individual suffering from dementia, so with a culture as a whole: the loss of memory is experienced as a loss of identity.” For a stateless people, collective memory is key to national survival. That’s why for centuries diaspora Jews asked to be buried with soil from the land of Israel. And it’s why Palestinians gather soil from the villages from which their parents or grandparents were expelled. For Jews to tell Palestinians that peace requires them to forget the Nakba is grotesque. In our bones, Jews know that when you tell a people to forget its past you are not proposing peace. You are proposing extinction.

"The crimes of the past, when left unaddressed, do not remain in the past." There's plenty in that for citizens of our own white settler state -- the U.S. of A. -- to ponder. We, any of us, can't congratulate ourselves that the injustice of the powerful is over there somewhere else.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Make immigration courts into real courts

During the Trump presidency, I found myself making lists of changes in laws, in government structures, in entrenched policies, that a responsible successor should be working for. And that a responsible activist might be agitating for.

This rapidly became a long and expanding list: penalties for violating the Constitutional emoluments clause (that is, the prohibition on taking bribes); new barriers to politicizing the Department of Justice; automatic sunsets on Presidential emergency declarations; reining in the pardon power; enforcement of the Hatch Act prohibiting campaigning on the government dime, etc. and so forth. (People who actually know a lot about this, a bi-partisan pair of former Presidential lawyers, Jack Goldsmith and Bob Bauer, have actually written the book: After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency. No, I haven't read it and likely will not have time to.) 

Scratches on a bench in a San Francisco immigration courtroom
But nothing on my list seemed more urgent than fixing the immigration court system. Many of us in San Francisco had a chance to see this kangaroo process in action in the early days of the Trump regime. Concerned citizens filled hearings where unfortunate inmates of Jeff Sessions' Justice Department immigration lock-ups learned their fates and the fates of their often mixed-status families. It was hard to tell often whether the subjects of these cases understood much through the online video-conferencing interviews and stumbling translation.Some hearings seemed merely cruel and perfunctory. Some judges did their best to decide cases compassionately within the constraints of the law. But that was the exception.

But ultimately the Attorney General of the moment (first Sessions and later Bill Barr) was the judges' boss. He made the rules about how they were allowed to apply the intricacies of immigration law. That's not how real courts work.

Now the New York Times editorial board is on the case:

... If the goal was to empty the United States of all those asylum seekers, Mr. Trump clearly failed, as evidenced by the huge backlog he left Mr. Biden. But the ease with which he imposed his will on the immigration courts revealed a central structural flaw in the system: They are not actual courts, at least not in the sense that Americans are used to thinking of courts — as neutral arbiters of law, honoring due process and meting out impartial justice.  
Nor are immigration judges real judges. They are attorneys employed by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which is housed in the Department of Justice. It’s hard to imagine a more glaring conflict of interest than the nation’s top law-enforcement agency running a court system in which it regularly appears as a party. 
The result is that immigration courts and judges operate at the mercy of whoever is sitting in the Oval Office. How much money they get, what cases they focus on — it’s all politics. 
That didn’t used to be such a problem, because attorneys general rarely got involved in immigration issues. Then Mr. Trump came along and reminded everyone just how much power the head of the executive branch has when it comes to immigration. 
The solution is clear: Congress needs to take immigration courts out of the Justice Department and make them independent, similar to other administrative courts that handle bankruptcy, income-tax and veterans’ cases. Immigration judges would then be freed from political influence and be able to run their dockets as they see fit, which could help reduce the backlog and improve the courts’ standing in the public eye. Reform advocates, including the Federal Bar Association, have pushed the idea of a stand-alone immigration court for years without success. The Trump administration made the case for independence that much clearer. ...
The Democratic Congress has an array of urgently necessary legislation before it. They will receive almost no cooperation from any Republicans now that GOPers have become pure anti-democratic insurrectionists. But this reform would be a tremendous signal about what kind of country this aspires to be, affirming that this is a nation of laws capable of compassionate care for immigrants. Congress and the Biden administration need to go there.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Churches no longer dominate the landscape ... and here's a reason

This post is a coda to yesterday's discussion of Robert P. Jones' White Too Long. Mark Silk is a professor at Trinity College, Connecticut, and a contributor to Religion News Service. Here's his take on the changing political significance of contemporary U.S. religiosity.

Click to pick out the church spire.

The hollowing out of American religion

[April 5, 2021] Twenty-five years ago, when Trinity College hired me to create a center for the study of religion in public life, nearly 9 in 10 Americans asserted a religious identity. Now, according to Gallup, it’s 7 in 10.  
Then, two-thirds of Americans said they belonged to a religious congregation. Now, it’s less than half. As for weekly attendance, Gallup reports it down from 40% to 30%. ... 
It’s a fair bet that by midcentury, just half the American population will identify with a religion, one-third will belong to congregations, and one-sixth will attend worship once a week. The trends could reverse, of course, but as of now the turn away from organized religion is the most consequential demographic shift in our time. 
That’s because, in the wake of the civil rights movement, the Republican Party decided to build its future on religion. From Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority to Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, the GOP’s Sunbelt strategy became a Bible Belt strategy, which used religion to push the Democrats into the minority. 
And a promising strategy it was, so long as the vast majority of Americans remained religiously engaged. Otherwise, however, not so much. 
... Given that smaller proportions of religious voters are coming on line every cycle, you’d expect the GOP to dial back its enthusiasm for restricting abortions, fighting LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws and maximizing the ability of religious institutions and individuals to access public goods while receiving exemptions from generally applicable laws. 
But of course, that hasn’t happened. Instead, having abandoned its 20th-century dream of becoming the majority party, the GOP has dialed back its commitment to democracy and gone all-in for gerrymandering congressional districts and suppressing the votes of the (increasingly secular) other side 
As a result, the place of religion in American politics has become more important over the quarter-century that it has been my business, even as Americans themselves have been turning away from organized religion. Anyone who thinks this is a healthy development should think again.
My emphasis. Silk doesn't spell out the overwhelming whiteness of those who remain in the religious fold, as he should if I'm to believe Robert P. Jones' demographic picture. But he seems awfully solid as an observer of the political and religious consequences of declining religious affiliation among all racial groups.

Monday, May 10, 2021

A heart-felt cry from a sociologist of religion

When I last discussed a book about U.S. white Christianity by Robert P. Jones, CEO of the survey research outfit Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), I was frustrated. His deep collection of data about belief and behavior somehow didn't point to entirely sustainable conclusions.

Now I think I know why that 2016 Jones book evoked those feelings. In 2020, he's written the book which explains what he really thinks: White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. This one is sociological research -- yes -- but also a cri du coeur, a heart-felt protest, against the white evangelical Protestantism he was raised in.

The book's first sentence:
The Christian denomination in which I grew up was founded on the proposition that chattel slavery could flourish alongside the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's founders believed this arrangement was not just possible, but also divinely mandated. ...
And he wants it understood that although his own tradition is Southern/Confederate, white supremacy also shaped northern Christianity. None of our white forbears are off the hook in Jones' telling:
... to the dismay of African American abolitionist leaders like Frederick Douglass ... white Christian convictions about the evils of slavery more often than not failed to translate into strong commitments to black equality. 
... White Christian churches have not just been complacent; they have not just been complicit; rather, as the dominant cultural power in America, they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy and resist black equality. ...
First we -- white Christians -- must learn to see the truth of own racist history. He remembers his own personal story of growing up in Southern Baptist churches in Texas and Mississippi.
... I never once wrestled seriously with our denomination's troubled racist past. ... The most powerful thing about my childhood experience in church was its ability to generate a palpable feeling of living under a protective sacred and social canopy. ... Our church succeeded in generating a culture of protection for most of us in our white, working class corner of southwest Jackson [Miss.]  
... Because of the existing conditions of inequality, late twentieth century white Christian theology didn't necessarily need to actively work against African American civil rights (although it did this too.) Rather, its most powerful tool was its ability to constrict radically the scope of whites' moral vision. ...
Not surprisingly, Jones is highly critical of the theological framework generated within this clubby white religiosity. He particularly indicts white Christianity's location of sin and salvation in the context of a "personal relationship with Jesus." I admit I've never quite resonated with this approach to knowing a good God. But Jones considers what I find baffling as downright pernicious. He insists this peculiar habit of mind underlies white supremacist belief:
... anti-structuralism denotes the deep suspicion with which white evangelicals view institutional explanations for social problems, principally because they believe invoking social structures shifts the blame from where it belongs: with sinful individuals.  
... In the personal Jesus paradigm, Jesus did not die for a cause or for humankind writ large but for each individual person. Responding positively to [Jesus], entering into this relationship, is an intimate decision that must be made freely by each person as an accountable act of will. ... There's nothing in this conceptual model to provide a toehold for thinking about the way institutions or culture shape, promote, or limit human decisions or well-being.
Though he's hardest on his own white evangelical Protestants, Jones doesn't let white mainline Protestantism or white American Catholicism off this hook either, pointing to a growing prominence within these faith traditions of salvation hopes rooted in personal relationship frameworks.

From there, he documents how Christian churches have sacralized and marked the South's Lost Cause in all those Robert E. Lee monuments. In this regard, my Episcopal branch of the faith comes off pretty badly, as "the church of the Confederate elite." And he delves into white Christian participation in lynchings and torture.

Jones concludes with some stories of particular Black and white congregations which have struggled to overcome our ugly history. He's not hopeless about white American Christianity reckoning with its white supremacist culture , but he warns:
Whites, and especially white Christians, have seen this project as an altruistic one rather than a desperate life-and-death struggle for their own future.
This time around, in this book, Jones has put both his life history and his data to challenging, informative use.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Mother love

My mother had no taste for Mother's Day. "It's just a thing cooked up by the florists to sell flowers." 

I take after her. Commercial and saccharine, I can do without.

Martha with baby Jan in 1947

But, in actuality, she was very much into healthy mothering and I'm the better for it.

My friend the Rev. John Kirkley passed along a story in a sermon that catches what she gave me. He offers this from the Methodist theologian Tex Sample:

When Tex was a teenager, he went from being 5’5’’ tall to being 6’2’’ tall in about 5 minutes.  He was the scrawniest, gangliest thing you ever saw.  And, of course, his glands went crazy.  He had terrible acne.  He could hardly bear to show his face at school and his classmates were not kind. 

But every night, before he went to sleep, his mama would come into his room and sit on the edge of the bed.  She’s stroke his forehead and say, “Tex, you are the purdiest boy I’ve ever seen.  You are so purdy, I can hardly stand it.”  Telling that story 40 years later, Tex realized that his mother saw him as God saw him.  And in the light of such love his pain was transfigured.  No matter what the culture or his peers tried to tell him, he was able to receive his identity from a source much deeper and more true.  

My mother showed me that unconditional love was possible, even though people are complicated. All children should receive that. Because I did, I am able to imagine that God's love, whatever that is, might be equally without limit, even bigger and better ...

There are lots of people who are not literally mothers who are fortunate enough to be able to give love in a healthy motherly way to people who are not their babies. Somewhat to my surprise, I've even known a few who were men. Let's celebrate all of them.