Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Remembering Betita Martinez, 1925-2021

Here's Betita at a party at Brava Theatre with her friend Nancy. She loved a good time.
Betita was a friend, a neighbor, and a comrade in resistance to U.S. imperial adventures. She was a founding member of the collective which produced WarTimes/Tiempo de Guerras in response to the wars of 9/11. Here she compares notes with Calvin Cheung-Miaw. The newspaper (yes, there was paper back in the day) aimed to make a broadly left, anti-racist intervention in a developing national peace movement. It was thanks to Betita that WT/TdG was bilingual in Spanish and English from its first issue. She insisted; we all learned.
There were meetings -- endless meetings.

One of my favorite Betita pictures was always this, from a mural of neighborhood heroes painted by the children of BuenaVista/Horace Mann School.

For more about Betita's early life in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, see this site

We shall not see her like again.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Pandemic permutations

Walking around San Francisco, it feels as if COVID is over. More and more people have shed masks, especially in the more affluent areas. An amazing number of small restaurants have reopened; how did they survive, one wonders? But we're mostly happy, if a little dazed.

But we need to remember, for most of the people of the planet, it's NOT over.

Globally, more people died of the coronavirus in the first half of this year than in all of last year—an astounding fact, given the emergence of the vaccines. The tragic truth is that, for much of the world, the vaccines may as well not exist. On the one hand, the U.S. is vaccinating children as young as twelve; on the other hand, health-care workers, elderly people, and cancer patients in many other countries remain defenseless. Three-quarters of COVID-vaccine shots have been administered in just ten countries, whereas the poorest nations have received less than one half of one per cent of the supply. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O. director-general, has called this a “scandalous inequity.” ...

In a sense, Delta is the first post-vaccination variant. Pockets of the human race—perhaps five hundred million people out of 7.6 billion—are protected against it, despite its transmissibility; for them, the pandemic’s newest chapter is something of an epilogue, since the main story has, in effect, already concluded. But, for those who remain unvaccinated, by choice or by chance, Delta represents the latest installment in an ongoing series of horrors. It’s a threat more sinister than any other—one that imperils whatever precarious equilibrium has taken root. In a partially vaccinated world, Delta exposes the duality in which we now live and die.

Indeed, Australia -- a relatively rich, effectively governed, island nation -- has gone into lockdown in the last few days because of the spread of the Delta variant. Australia's vaccination program had only innoculated 5% of the population.

Michael Tomasky has applied his understanding of democratic (small "d") ethical philosophy to the refusal by many citizens of this country to avail themselves of vaccines. HIs argument is an enraged call-out of Republican-governed states, counties, and individuals who claim to be upholding "freedom" by not taking their shots.

Historically, freedom has a pretty precise meaning. As I wrote in a column in The New York Times last October, it comes to us chiefly from John Stuart Mill—a man whom conservatives used to revere. In “On Liberty,” Mill wrote that freedom (or liberty) means “doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.”

Notice that “as long as what we do does not harm them” part. That’s crucial to the entire enterprise, and it has always been broadly accepted in democracies by left and right as a crucial part of the definition. If I want to dump some garbage on my lawn, that’s my business, distressing though it may be to my neighbors. But I can’t go dumping garbage on my neighbor’s lawn. And I can swing my fist around in the air to my heart’s content, but my right to do as I please with my fist ends where your jaw begins.

Today’s Republicans are making a different and more dangerous set of claims about freedom that would horrify Mill. To their mind, they can dump garbage on their neighbors’ lawns and swing their fists wherever they please. Aren’t those morally equivalent to refusing to get vaccinated and helping to spread a deadly disease? There is no doubt. It’s the same principle at play: doing as one likes even if it does harm to others.

Modern Republicans are upholding the principle that they can go ahead and dump garbage on their neighbors' lawns. And spread the bug. And also fry the planet for their own convenience. 

This is suicidal species behavior.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Injustice codified

The son of the mid-20th century SNCC leader of the same name, the younger James Forman Jr. was a D.C. public defender in the 1990s and later the co-founder of a high school for students often labelled "at risk." Locking up our own: crime and punishment in Black America describes the process through which the country's Blackest city embraced unforgiving "public safety" strategies which led to mass incarceration of its own Black poor and youth.

Forman does not write to apportion blame for the rising toll of victims of an inhuman system. Rather, he wants to know why men of good will (these Black lawmakers seem to have been mostly men) could have constructed such a horror.
How did a majority black jurisdiction end up incarcerating so many of its own? ... [According to a 2014 Sentencing Project poll] how could it be that even after forty years of tough-on-crime tactics, with their attendant toll on black America, 64 percent of African-Americans still thought the courts were not harsh enough?
Forman's book is a catalogue of incidents of injustice -- of kids who made one mistake and ended up doing time, of women supporting a drug habit who get sent up to prison for half a decade because they couldn't get clean, of Black strivers who finally got a good job, only to lose their chance forever over a minor marijuana arrest. He certainly doesn't endorse our country's punitive response to Black crime -- but he's relentlessly determined to understand how D.C. got to such a system.

In Forman's telling, it begins with the scourge of heroin addiction in the 1960s (much of it brought home by draftees from Vietnam -- my note) and the violent crime that accompanied the drug business. Fifteen years later, cheap crack cocaine hit the streets and more violence came along. Neighborhood associations encouraged their members to prepare to defend their homes. They demanded more policing and tougher sentences. A pattern was set.
As they confronted this devastating crime wave, black officials exhibited a complicated and sometimes overlapping mix of impulses. Some displayed tremendous hostility toward perpetrators of crime, describing them as a "cancer" that had to be cut away from the rest of the black community. Others pushed for harsher penalties, but acknowledged that these would not solve the crisis at hand. Some even expressed sympathy for the plight of criminal defendants, who they knew were disproportionately black. But that sympathy was rarely sufficient to overcome the claims of black crime victims, who often argued that a punitive approach was necessary to protect the African America community -- including many of its most impoverished members -- from the ravages of crime.
A D.C. political struggle over decriminalization of marijuana in the 1970s became a contest between liberals who were branded as supporting white teenagers and hippies against Black neighborhoods where police allowed drug trafficking to immiserate the residents. In this, then majority-Black, city, marijuana law reform lost.

Although gun control measures were enacted in D.C. in the 1970s, this was over the objections of much of the Black community. As migrants from law-free Jim Crow regions, a substantial fraction of Black citizens were accustomed to the gun kept in the home as the last defense against marauding whites. You naturally didn't give up the gun to depend on the government while drug crime engulfed the neighborhood. And when gun control won, gun possession triggered mandatory minimum additional sentences as part of the "War on Drugs." Most of the community cheered taking the system's losers off the streets.
... the impulse to impose ever-tougher sentences would prove difficult to restrain. And this remained true even when the punitive measures adopted in D.C. and elsewhere did not achieve the desired results. In one respect the policies to combat drugs and guns have a similar impact: the majority of those punished have been low-income, poorly educated black men. In another respect they have had a similar lack of impact: they have failed to prevent marijuana use, and they have failed to protect the community from gun violence.
With determination and grit, qualified Black men (and later women) did integrate the D.C. police force. But the race of the officers failed to make much improvement for the communities policed. Black cops were not much different from many of their white counterparts: they were ordinary lower middle class people looking for a stable job. Their race didn't change law enforcement practices that reinforced race bias with class bias.

When the crack epidemic made violent crime even more common and devastating, Washington's black community overwhelmingly voted for long mandatory sentences for minor drug crimes in the 1980s. The horror had to stop. And the police, under siege from well armed criminals, and finding themselves unable to interrupt the drug plague, adopted the "warrior" posture. Forman spells out the consequences:
... the warrior model inverts the presumption of innocence. In the ghetto, you are not presumed innocent until proved otherwise. Rather, you are presumed guilty, or at least suspicious, and you must expend an extraordinary amount of energy -- through careful attention to dress, behavior, and speech -- to mark yourself as innocent. ... Even proof of innocence is dismissed by a system incapable of questioning the assumptions that led it to mark you as guilty.

... the menace crack presented in turn provoked a set of responses that have helped produce the harsh and bloated criminal justice system we have today.
And this distorted system remained in place when crack use had run its vicious course by the early 2000s.

Finally, in the second decade of the 2000s, Black citizens and Black politicians began to struggle for alternatives. Forman is not particularly hopeful. Some Black individuals may escape the worst effects of the militarized war on crime, but the inertia of the system remains punitive and pernicious for most.

• • •

This is a 2017 book. It remains to be seen whether George Floyd's public murder, Breonna Taylor's inadvertent execution by police, and Black Lives Matter's organized protests will make a substantial difference.

Forman reports that in studying the history of the terrible system he worked inside and against, he came to understand that

African Americans have always viewed the protection of black lives as a civil rights issue, whether the threat comes from police officers or street criminals. Far from ignoring the issue of crime by blacks against other blacks, African American officials and their constituents have been consumed by it.
When I wrote about Rosa Brooks' puzzling book about D.C. policing, I concluded my unease was partly a consequence of its being written for someone else: in Brooks' case for her lefty mother. I realize too that I'm not Forman's audience in Locking Up Our Own. He's writing for Black leaders who've achieved some place and power within a racist system, demanding they turn their gaze on what their assimilation has wrought and who has been left behind.

Black Lives Matter has shown those same leaders what an aroused community looks like. Can it lead change?

• • •

As is often the case with books I post about, I first read this by ear, then obtained a hard copy from the public library. I'm glad I did. Forman's volume is illustrated with not-to-be missed contemporary cartoons from Black media that demonstrate how crime and punishment issues were being seen within the Washington community. I'll end with one sample from this fascinating set of historical images:

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Novelties to be grateful for

One of the pleasant permutations of the pandemic was the proliferation of chalked sidewalk art.

Did overburdened parents get hold of the chalks and then take over from their kids? Seems likely.

Happy Pride to all.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Saturday scenery: murals of hope and determination

It's been a long siege. But we're still here.
All the essentials.
The enduring land.
Stick around.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Bring on the A-Team

Click to enlarge.

Glad to read the news, but even more delighted to see the lineup of determined, strong women backing up Merrick Garland. With those folks fighting for voting rights, we might just get through this fight.

Friday cat blogging

True to the example of the Star Trek character who provides her name, Janeway takes advantage of a visit to the vet to explore an unfamiliar world.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Interrupting violence

"Police are violence responders, not violence interrupters."
Earlier this week, I discussed Rosa Brooks' tale of becoming certified as a D.C. cop. Today let's listen to another Brooks, Cat Brooks from the Anti-Police Terror Project in the East Bay. On Juneteenth, celebrations at Oakland's Lake Merritt were interrupted by a mass shooting that killed one, injured many, and is probably a consequence of a San Francisco gang feud according to law enforcement.

Cat Brooks wants us to understand that more police aren't the answer. And she has a prescription for a better way.

[Police] do not understand our communities nor do they have our trust. 
I am tired of responding to violent crime. I want to live in a world where we prevent it. 
Prevention is not punitive. Prevention is investment. 
... if BIPOC people had stable incomes, secure housing, more opportunities to excel in life and a pathway to heal from the infectious disease of white supremacy, we would not see violence, we would see thriving communities and healthy people. 
If a child can pick up a gun and kill another child that looks just like him — what does that say about how he sees himself? What have we taught him about the value of his life? And if he doesn’t value his life, how can we expect him to value anyone else’s? 
... Investing in the status quo virtually guarantees more violence, more dead Black bodies, more surveillance, more terrorized communities, more incarceration, more trauma, more devastated families. 
We can build the communities, the cities and the country we all want. But we have to invest in people on the front end instead of tombstones and jails on the back end.
If more policing and prisons made America safe, we’d be the safest nation in the world.

 • • •

Today I received an email from San Francisco District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. District 10 includes Visitacion Valley, Sunnydale, Potrero Hill, Bayview, Hunters Point -- and nearly all the city's public housing. It's the places that tourists never see and "essential" low wage workers can sometimes still rent, living next to old people holding on to dilapidated family houses.

The District has seen several shootings recently. 

Supervisor Walton writes: 

The violence has to stop. I know that we have seen some recent incredibly disheartening tragedies and violence in our communities (particularly in the Bayview). Addressing violence is one of the major focuses of our office and every loss in community takes a piece of me with it. I cannot be clear enough about how it destroys me inside when we lose someone from our neighborhoods due to violence. ...

... Violence prevention strategies have not worked in the district and for decades District 10 has been neglected. District 10 has the highest number of homicides and an overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. We need comprehensive justice reform to address this systemic racist system that continues to fall short from being able to address the root causes of violence. With all the resources that the City invests into District 10, it is clear that we need a comprehensive plan that is community driven, community led, and community implement in order to be effective. 
Walton's Public Safety Plan aims to bring all the considerable city resources together to be coordinated by a new Violence Prevention Convener. It's hard to tell whether this is just words or whether some wizard worker can actually do the job. It does seem that Walton is trying to do the job for his community.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

While we're on the subject of police ...


On June 19, the L.A. Times reported

While about 72% of adult Californians and 64% of Los Angeles residents 16 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, only about 51% of city firefighters and 52% of LAPD officers are at least partially vaccinated.

What gives with these people? 

Slate took a look at the issues in an interview with Justin Feldman, a social epidemiologist at the Harvard FXB Center for Health & Human Rights.  

The first thing to know is that the vaccines not only do a really good job of preventing disease, but they also provide some protection from transmitting it to others. So police who are not vaccinated having contact with communities, especially those with low vaccination rates at this point in the rollout, is concerning. There’s about 60 million people who report having at least one contact with police in a given year. There’s also about 10 million arrests that happen in a year.

And these contacts are going to be disproportionately lower income people, Black people, and other people of color. These are the same communities that have been dying and hospitalized at the highest rate. They’re also communities that have struggled to get access to vaccination—and that’s not a question of hesitancy. It’s a question of are the vaccines being made available locally.

... When you look at the demographics and politics of police officers, they are often younger. And, in general, we see a lower vaccine uptake among younger populations because they don’t believe that they are susceptible to the worst effects of the virus. And if you have a lot of white men with conservative politics represented among police, you see the same since that demographic in the general population has pretty high vaccine hesitancy. Therefore it’s not surprising to me that you’d see a similar pattern happening in police departments.

Feldman points out, this hesitancy is harmful -- most especially to officers themselves. 

Police like to tell us that they keep communities safe from things like shootings and assault, but they are not doing much to guard us from more severe health risks. 
Police also like to draw attention to how dangerous their job is and point to officers who are killed on the job by civilians. 
And in 2020 the leading cause of death for police officers was COVID-19. So even within their own workforce and institutions there is much larger risk of COVID than of violence.

Eventually the Federal Drug Administration will move the vaccines from an "emergency use" status to full approval. They are certainly carrying out a huge trial, as over 175 million of us have had our shots with hardly any bad results. Once the vaccines win full approval, police and fire departments and all first responders should be legally required to receive vaccination as a condition of employment unless individuals have a darn good medical excuse. The military will certainly be subject to these rules, as are many privately employed individuals already. 

Will police unions resist this common sense requirement?

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

A puzzle, sometimes deadly

Sadly, I found Rosa Brooks' book about her experience training to become, and serving as, a volunteer D.C. police officer, well, simply tangled. The book is a melange of themes that never quite come together.

There's the story of Brooks, an accomplished law professor, a social analyst, and a security policy advocate, trying to come to terms with her lefty mother (the writer Barbara Ehrenreich).
From the beginning, it was my mother's likely reaction that worried me most. I had always struggled with her expectations: I wanted to please her and make her proud, but at the same time I didn't want her choices and commitments to dictate my own.
Come on. Brooks is a successful, white, middle class, middle-aged mother of almost teenagers, not some lost 20-something. This is TMI and it doesn't advance the story, unless I assume that the mother is the actual audience for the project.

Not surprisingly, Brooks stint as a cop enables her to testify to the humanity and basic decency of many, even most, individuals who do the job. She recites the catechism of sympathetic liberal journalism:
Police officers have an impossible job: we expect them to be warriors, disciplinarians, protectors, mediators, social workers, educators, medics and mentors all at once, and we blame them for enforcing laws they didn't make in a social context they have little power to alter. The abuses and systemic problems that plague policing are very real, and readers will see them reflected in these pages, particularly in the flashes of cynicism and casual contempt I sometimes saw in officers with whom I worked. But the compassion, courage, and creativity I saw are real too.
So what did I get from this book? Various, somewhat disconnected, tidbits about policing.

There's the training which sets the stage, but probably doesn't much prepare beginning officers for their job.

They learn first and foremost that: "Anyone can kill you at any time." Officer "safety videos" drum in the scary message that some cops do fail to come home. Further, they imply that if you get hurt while doing your job, it's probably because you weren't tough and prepared enough to do battle with the bad guys. No wonder too many cops treat the communities they police as war zones. Nobody is reminding the budding recruits that for all the hype, police work isn't among the top 10 most dangerous jobs in this country.

They have an ethics lesson:
The instructor summed it up: "Basically, don't do shit that will look bad on the news. Because if you do, you are roadkill." 
Everyone laughed. 
"No," he said, "I'm not kidding. You do something stupid, do not think for one moment that the department is going to stand by you. You make the department look bad, you will be hung out to dry."
They learn -- or at least encounter -- the hundreds of laws, policies, and concomitant paper work that make up the life of a cop. Cops operate within a thicket of sometimes conflicting injunctions that are probably beyond the capacity of any individual to decipher. I'll give Brooks kudos for describing the morass well.

Despite having been issued a misaligned weapon, Brooks passed firearms training with difficulty. She comments:
Later, on patrol, I found I hardly ever thought about the gun in my holster. It might as well not have been there. To the extent that I thought about it, it was mostly because it was sometimes in my way, pinching my skin or banging into my elbow. Sometimes, when I was tired, I used it as an armrest.
But she does report one incident when she did draw her gun, following her defensive training when entering a dark apartment. If she and her partner had done what they had been taught to do, and what police culture supports, they might have shot and killed a naked unarmed teenager they found there -- but they overcame their training and defused a mistake.

In chocolate Washington, DC, the recruits got no training on issues of race.
The academy curriculum was as striking for what it didn't cover as what it did. For instance, we had eight units on vehicular offenses and one unit on use-of-force policies -- but nothing at all on race and policing.
About half her class was Black.

Something I found notable in Brooks' account of working as a cop was that she gave no account of the police union to which her employed colleagues presumably belonged. The only glancing mention of this formidable force in officers' lives was when a union rep assured her she didn't have to testify to internal affairs investigators about sexist behavior she had observed. There's no real sense in this book whether the union is a force for good or ill -- for officers and/or for the community.

Brooks' anecdotes about actual shifts on patrol are vivid, sometimes funny, more often tragic. Mostly this is story of people getting by in grinding inter-generational poverty. Suffering and deprivation drive some people mad; it seldom ennobles. Race doesn't come into it much, because in the district she patrols, pretty much everyone except Brooks is Black.
Like most poor minority neighborhoods, 7D was in many ways over-policed -- unlike in more affluent areas, police are a constant and visible presence. Activists critical of policing complain, with some justification, that police effectively become occupying forces in poor urban neighborhoods. ... But over-policing is driven in part by the law of supply and demand -- police go where people ask them to go. ... bias-driven calls are all too common, especially in demographically changing neighborhoods. ... But the over-policing of poor black urban communities is also fueled by high demand for police services from members of those same communities. When other social goods and services are absent or scarce, police become the default solution to an astonishingly wide range of problems.
A lesson -- which I am willing to take -- is that if we want to have less policing and police, we need to provide other answers for residents in under-served poor communities who need help. If we don't, the default is more cops.

One of the tasks our society delegates to cops is dealing with deaths outside hospitals and at home.
Within a year of graduating from the academy, even as a purely part-time, twenty-four-hours-a-month officer, I had seen at least six or seven dead bodies, including one homicide victim, and two overdose victims. Full time officers see ten times as many dead people. Like everything else, repetition makes it routine. People die all the time. There's nothing special about it.
No wonder cops are people who drift apart from a society in which we do our best to hide the fact of death.

Brooks raises up a statistic I found interesting:
... a typical full-time patrol officer will average well under one arrest each month.
And she contends that arrests usually make life worse for both the individual and the community -- but like her fellow officers, she can only ask, what are cops to do? In Washington, above all else her foray into law enforcement reinforces the truth that
... poverty and race are difficult to disentangle.
Eventually Brooks managed to combine her work as a law professor with her stint as a patrol officer, creating a program in which new officer recruits have a chance to think about the social implications of their new jobs. She's hopeful. I'm unconvinced, but glad to know people are working at this.

My mindset is to assume that solutions, if any, are more likely to emerge from communities that are both over-policed and under-safe than from outside. We'd don't yet know as a society how to do this better and what we currently do is not particularly good for any of the tangled people in the system -- except maybe for those police unions.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Journalism's current diner genre

A long, largely sympathetic, feature in the Washington Post is number 1 at the moment among the most read stories. Once again, this is journalism treating human subjects as specimens in an exotic zoo. Remember all those reporters braving diners in Ohio after the 2016 election?

The reporter found an aggrieved right wing thug who lost his job after being an asshole to a freelance journalist with a camera at a protest in D.C. in November. Enterprising anti-fascist internet sleuths saw the pictures and managed to get him fired from his job as a iron-worker. His wife, not a participant in the scuffle, also lost her job, perhaps because the publicity over his loutish behavior -- or perhaps because Walmart was penalizing her for absences with a bad back. 

The right wingers are aggressive Trumpists; the anti-fascists are -- well -- anti-fascists. Hey, in many corners of this big country, there's that level of conflict between neighbors. We the people have very different visions of a good society and some of us act out for our choices, more and less peaceably. It's all amplified by media that spread passions far and wide. The conflict is over real, vital, moral and material futures.

But the Post completely fails to contextualize its dramatic story of an encounter between visions until this 13th paragraph -- the essential backstory to its gripping cartoon characters:

Conservatives typically portray militant antifascists as the far-left equivalent of violent armed groups on the hard right, but right-wing extremist attacks and plots greatly eclipse those from the far left and cause more deaths, a Washington Post analysis showed. The FBI regards far-right extremists as the most active and lethal domestic terror threat. 
That's the story in a nutshell -- the rest is under-examined color commentary. Evidently we can't resist giving the aggrieved terrorist genre plenty of clicks.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Father's Day 2021

That's my father on the right, next to his father, in 1919 if the date on the old picture is correct. He would have been 14.

Was the photographer admonishng them both to stand up straight? 

Or did they just want to get this over with and get inside, away from the Buffalo chill?

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Juneteenth and all that

I rejoice for those, including most especially Ms. Opal Lee, for whom the new federal holiday is the culmination of a long campaign. The enslaved people of Galveston, Texas had been legally "free" since the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 when they got the news on June 19, 1865 -- but sometimes it takes a long time for reality to catch up with the laws on the books. 

Make that a very long time ...

I reflect on how very different this feels from the long process that led up to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Hardly a Republican dared go against the Congressional vote on this one, unlike the King holiday which was opposed by such luminaries as Senator John McCain. Back in the day, the U.S. political elite had living memories of the good trouble of the civil rights movement, for better and worse. They aren't carrying any living memories of joyous, free Black Texans. These same GOPers who voted for Juneteenth are doing their damnedest to suppress the votes of the descendants of slaves.

I ruminate on the Juneteenth holiday arriving during what is now known as Pride Month. May it not go the way of what was once Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day, reduced to an opportunity for corporations to advertise how "with it" they are and sell us more stuff.

Especially for white people, but perhaps for all, let's make Juneteenth a moment to rededicate ourselves to a new outburst of freedom. Freedom is powerful stuff indeed. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday cat blogging

We'll give Janeway a week off and introduce readers to some found felines.

I snapped this watchful animal with some anxiety. You see, I  do contactless deliveries of groceries to shut-in families for the Mission Food Hub. And yesterday we not only had the usual box of staples, but also packages of frozen chicken. This cat was perched next to the house where I was leaving a box -- with the chicken package on top. We text the recipients on arrival. Who would get the chicken first? No complaints, so I guess the human won.

I wasn't even sure this was a cat when I first noticed the animal while Walking San Francisco.  It turned out to be an elder, possibly blind, without a human in sight to take hold of the harness. But fearless and cooperative with the camera.

Here's another bold beast. He showed no sign of objecting to my taking multiple shots.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Democracy at stake: a lesson from Texas for national Democrats

Marc Elias, the Democratic voting rights lawyer, doesn't mince words.  

Republicans are willing to destroy democratic institutions to gain and hold power. The result is an asymmetrical war on democracy where congressional Republicans, and their state counterparts, are willing to do or say virtually anything to frustrate the will of the majority and make a mockery of the idea of the consent of the governed. No principle is sacred, no line is uncrossable, and no lie is too big if it helps Republican politicians win elections. ...

If you want to cast blame for the Senate’s failure to protect voting rights, start with the 50 Senate Republicans who refuse to support it. They are on the wrong side of history and have cemented their legacy of cowardice. Not only are they blocking federal safeguards against voter suppression, but they’re also supporting and applauding state legislative efforts to chip away at the right to vote.
It's not just Donald Trump -- it's the Republican Party. When they can't convince a majority, they will disenfranchise enough people to keep power. In states where they hold power, they continue to make it harder to vote. Elias in the courts and Democratic minorities in state legislature are trying every tactic they can find to preserve broad voting rights.

Last month, Democratic Texas state legislators walked out of a late night final session of the body's term to prevent a vote on a current GOPer voting suppression bill. No legislators, no bill. GOPers called the maneuver a stunt -- and it was inherently a delaying tactic, not a victory. Texas' Republican governor promises to call the legislature back into special session to pass their bill. 

But Judd Legum at Popular Information has been following the aftermath and "the stunt" is winning some partial victories. A restriction on Sunday voting hours designed to reduce access for Black church-goers may be removed. A section allowing judges to overturn election results without measurable proof of fraud also looks gone. Democrats can't completely stop the Texas bill, but Legum urges national Democrats to pay attention: Something extraordinary is happening in Texas.

National Democrats need to show a similar urgency to step beyond business-as-usual to pass federal voting protections. Sure, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin likes being cock of the walk, basking in the spotlight while withholding essential support. But this is about saving the legitimacy of our form of government. Democrats may not yet have the votes, but they do control the Senate. Why are their leaders letting them wander off on vacation, Legum asks?

Currently, the Senate is scheduled to be on recess for much of the summer — from June 28 to July 9 and from August 9 to September 10. 

Even though there isn't a clear path to success at present, Texas Democrats illustrated the power of doing everything possible to protect voting rights. Keeping the Senate in session until it takes action on voting rights would underscore the importance of the issue, require Republicans to take tough votes, and create pressure to reach a compromise so everyone could go home. One thing is for sure: the Senate can't protect voting rights while it is on recess.

Ezra Levin of the pro-democracy advocacy group Indivisible captures the urgency we need in this time:

If this were easy, it would have been done already. If this were pre-ordained, we wouldn’t have to make it happen. If this were a lost cause, I wouldn’t be writing you this email. It’s not easy, it’s not pre-ordained, it’s not lost. ...

Democratic as well as Republican senators need to hear from constituents. It's their job to find a way!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Just what is security, anyway?

Erudite Partner is at it again: 

The Real Welfare Cheats Are War Profiteers

We’re squabbling over Social Security, while the government lavishes infinitely more money on the arms industry.

There's a lot right about this Biden administration, but like all governments since World War II, it takes for granted that the weapons budget must go up, up, up -- and how to pay for Social Security should be a recurring conundrum.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Eyewitness testimony

I'm not sure the world is well served by jumping back into the details of that disgusting episode last June during which non-violent Black Lives Matter protesters were clubbed and teargassed, apparently to facilitate a Trump photo-op holding a Bible in front of a D.C. church. A new inspector general's report wants us to believe that -- oh no, this wasn't a foul publicity stunt; this was a pre-scheduled move to erect a security fence outside the White House.

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators next to St. John's Episcopal Church just north of Lafayette Square and the White House, June 1, 2020 in Washington D.C. (Jose Luis Magana / AFP / Getty)

But one of the priests of the church used as Trump's prop, the Rev. Gini Gerbasi, is still outraged and wants to us all to remember what she saw. It seems worthwhile to reproduce part of her passionate denunciation of the effort to conceal what she lived.

I’m one of the people who went to Lafayette Square last June in support of #BLM, & was driven away by riot police with teargas, & flash grenades. I saw the report finding no link between the clearing of the park & the photo op. Initially I was not going to respond...

“Stay in your lane!” is what some people say when clergy weigh in on political issues. But I’m an Episcopal priest; my LANE is truth-telling in service of love. My LANE is to call out sin when I see it. And that report – and the culture that gave rise to it – is full of it.

I'm not talking about the man who signed it. I’m talking about a sinful CULTURE that lies, hides the truth, lusts for power, glorifies violence, & rewards self-serving ignorance. That pernicious culture will keep spreading unless we call it out and refuse to accept it.

Last June 1st, 30 min. before curfew, I heard explosions. The air filled with smoke. In an INSTANT, police charged protestors, shoving & swinging clubs. People ran for cover, screaming. Police fired rubber bullets into the crowd; I saw a man who had been hit all over his chest.

The idea that this level of violence – unleashed in a single moment – was about clearing the space for a fence is absurd. This was not, “Hey folks, we need you to move so we can build a fence!” This was police in riot gear using weapons of war.

You saw it on TV – the sudden burst of violence, the President’s speech, and then that walk across the street, the smoke still clearing as he held that Bible. Trying to convince us that we did not see what we saw is gaslighting – it’s a lie. It’s also a distraction.

Would police have been justified in using this level of violence against innocent people if it WAS about a fence? Of course not. Violence against innocent people is wrong, period – wrong for a photo op, wrong for a fence.

The word Apocalypse means to uncover what was already there, but not clearly seen. That we were there on June 1st to protest the use of violence against innocent POC uncovered AGAIN our country's sin of racism, with its roots in the past but its chokehold firmly in the present.  ...

On June 1, 2020, the air was thick with smoke, but I could see clearly that what was happening was wrong. This report is another attempt at distracting and intimidating people with a smokescreen. I can see clearly through this one as well.

As she goes on to point out, there wasn't that sort of treatment meted out to the white crowd invading the Capitol on January 6. There's more. You can read it all here.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Another harbinger of a post-pandemic Mission

Labor and community supporters of laid-off workers at the boutique chocolate producer Dandelion Chocolate rallied in front of the company's Valencia Street location on Sunday. 

In March, workers began the legal election process to force their employer to recognize their planned affiliation with International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 6.

The subsequent vote in late April didn't yield a clear result. The tally showed 18 to 16 in favor of forming a union, with nine additional votes contested. Workers and management will argue before the National Labor Relations Board to decide which side won.

Meanwhile, on June 3, management laid off or fired nine workers, union activists all, seven of whom were people of color. Remaining workers saw pay cuts and schedule changes. Management blames the pandemic.

At the rally, Dandelion workers spoke movingly of their pride in the product and their hope to return to jobs they had found fulfilling.

San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan speaking in support of the Dandelion workers.
The organization Democratic Socialists of America took a leading role in mobilizing for the protest.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

New acquaintance

Click to enlarge.
On a mild sunny Saturday, as San Francisco seems finally to be truly resuming something like normal life, I met this charming young entrepreneur and artist pushing his books --and the fruit of the family lemon tree.
He was kind enough to give me a copy. He assured me he'd be producing further stories soon.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

No easy exit

Isabel Wilkerson is not a linear writer. She offers her readers a non-linear, experiential text in Caste, exposing us to the meaning of the systemic classification of human beings in caste societies. The three such societies she focuses on and compares are our American polity, Nazi Germany, and Hindu India. This is a nearly 500 page book that immerses the reader in realities that hurt.

This is not a book for the squeamish. According to Wilkerson, in the United States a racialized caste system has rendered Black people the lowest among the low, a status so much part of the air we breathe that its accidents often pass by unmarked by both higher status people (mostly but not exclusively white) and even its Black subjects themselves. Unexamined, caste is just the way the world works. Under slavery, the caste system extracted value from the work of Black Africans through branding, whipping, torture, and rape; under Jim Crow, the freed people were subjected to dismembering and lynching; and today we practice mass incarceration and Derek Chauvin-policing.

And there's no escaping the U.S. caste system. There's hardly a professional class Black person who hasn't lived an incident such as what happened to rising political star Illinois State Senator Barack Obama who tells of being casually taken for a waiter at star-powered New York (white) media party.

She writes from her own experience of living with no refuge from Black caste status despite her journalistic acclaim and Pulitzer award.
Modern-day caste protocols are less often about overt attacks or conscious hostility and can be dispiritingly hard to fight. They are like the wind, powerful enough to knock you down but invisible as they go about their work. They are sustained by the muscle memory of relative rank and the expectations of how one interacts with others based on their place in the hierarchy. 
It's a form of hyper-vigilance, the entitlement of the dominant caste to step in and assert itself wherever it chooses, to monitor or dismiss those deemed beneath them as they see fit. It is not about luxury cars and watches, country clubs and private banks, but knowing without thinking that you are one up from another based in rules not set down in paper but reinforced in most every commercial, television show, or billboard, from boardrooms to newsrooms to gated subdivisions, to who gets killed first in the first half hour of a movie. 
This is the blindsiding banality of caste.
No reader of this book will come away thinking that the micro in the term micro-aggression means inconsequential. Not only the terrible history of oppression, but also a current reality of oblivious suppression is Wilkerson's "origins of our discontents."

And here we are in the era of the full-on fascist GOP and dithering Dems (on their bad days). Wilkerson shows how durable and resilient the racial caste system remains. The demographic mix in the country is changing. Will that change undermine the system?

Wilkerson is appropriately dubious, yet tries to be hopeful.
Without an enlightened recognition of the price we all pay for a caste system, the hierarchy will likely shape-shift as it has in the past to ensure that the structure remains intact. The definition of whiteness could well expand to confer honorary whiteness to those on the border -- the lightest skinned people of Asian or Latino descent or biracial people with a white parent, for instance -- to increase the ranks of the dominant caste.

... None of us chose the circumstances of our birth. We had nothing to do with having been born into privilege or under stigma. We have everything to do with what we do with our God-given talents and how we treat others in our species from this day forward. ...
(I might add also how we treat other species as well.)

This book is a long, harrowing journey. So is the struggle for a kinder society in which it is easier for all men and women to be good.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Alas, the tags on bottom of the flyer had all been torn off.

But Janeway offers cat love every morning, perching on my lap as I try to type this,

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Who doesn't want their COVID shots

G. Elliott Morris who does data journalism for The Economist passes on an interesting polling finding. Non-voters are even more likely than Republicans to say they are "very unlikely" to get a coronavirus vaccine.

Citing polls from the research firms YouGov and Data for Progress, he passes on some suspicions for why this is so: 

• non-voters are less likely to pay attention to news and current events than voters. So they may have been less likely to see announcements of nearby clinics — or, perhaps more plausibly, to see messages from their political leaders urging them to go out and get their shots. 

• vaccination rates are lower in cities, among voters without college degrees, among non-whites and among young people, all else being equal. All of these things are also correlated with political activity.

• Voter turnout is higher among the elderly; so are vaccination rates. Turnout is lower in rural areas; same with vaccinations for covid-19. 

Not getting vaccinated correlates with disconnection from civic engagement -- not so surprising when you think about it. 

The current vaccination rate in this city is 69 percent according to DataSF, more than 20 points higher that the state and nearly ten points higher than the country at large. We're a very civically engaged place -- and neighborhood efforts like this on the Mission District's 24th Street make a difference.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

We can do it

We can mitigate the destabilization our devilishly, ingeniously, productive industrial capitalist civilization has inflicted on the global climate if we Electrify Everything.

New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich laid out the basics as technologists currently understand them.

Your Next Car and Clothes Dryer Could Help Save Our Planet 
Home "juice box"
... We must start with our homes and vehicles because, according to research from Rewiring America, a nonprofit organization focused on the widespread electrification of the U.S. economy, 42 percent of all of our energy-related carbon emissions come from the machines we have in our households and our cars. To keep global warming at livable temperatures, we need to replace existing machines that use fossil fuels with clean electric substitutes when they reach the end of life. 
... We need to get started today. And that requires three things. First, we need to invest in upgrading the breaker boxes in American homes so that they can take higher-capacity electrified appliances. These new breaker boxes will help to manage the load on a decarbonized grid. 
Second, we need to bring down the upfront costs of electrified appliances through rebates, incentives and low-cost financing to encourage consumers to buy them. Fossil-driven machines may be cheaper initially, but operating electrical machines will be cheaper far into the future, and their price will come down with economies of scale. 
Last, we need to help organize very fragmented local markets, train workers, reduce regulations that make electrification and distributed generation more expensive, and encourage business models that make it easy and intuitive for homeowners to replace and install their share of these one billion machines.

You know electrification is advancing when you begin to see home vehicle charging stations like the one pictured here that have been unobtrusively retrofitted on homes in upper middle class city neighborhoods. This is not some big new apartment building -- it's a San Francisco 1920s bungalow, ready to charge the family car. Do new houses being built in more construction-friendly areas come fitted for these things? If not, why not? Buyers are going to want them.

David Roberts shared a fascinating discussion with an entrepreneur who is making this happen. It's good tech and very good business:

Listen to Lynn Jurich, the co-founder and CEO of America's largest residential solar company. Sunrun has been around since 2007 and seen some ups and downs, but lately it has been all ups. 
The company adapted relatively quickly to the pandemic shutdown, invested heavily, and had a banner year in 2020.  
Then, to top it off, it bought Vivint, its leading competitor, for $3.2 billion. It is now sitting at the top of a burgeoning residential solar market, with a valuation of some $22 billion.

That's one lady riding a wave the crisis demands.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

New directions; pandemic abating (here, we hope)

There are parts [of] who we were that may not return. 
There are parts [of] who we were that will remain. 
There are parts [of] who we are now that are new, or renewed. 
There are parts of who we are now that will be revealed slowly.

Thoughts from Nadia Bolz-Weber

As life resumes in some new forms, I want to try to take in which parts are which. Your thoughts?

Monday, June 07, 2021

Thinking about Silver State elections

Last week, Nevada -- a state many friends helped turn more blueish through election turnout work -- passed extremely progressive process reforms that legalized access experiments tried out during the pandemic.

Nevada is now the sixth state to adopt largely all-mail voting systems after Sisolak signed Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s AB321, permanently codifying pandemic-related election changes adopted for the 2020 election season. The legislation was staunchly opposed by Republicans; the bill passed on party lines out of both the Assembly and Senate. 
“I’m proud of the work we did to expand access to the ballot box for all eligible Nevadans. As John Lewis said, voting is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy,” Frierson said in a statement. 
The bill requires all county and city clerks to send every active registered voter a mail ballot before a primary or general election. Inactive voters, who are legally registered to vote but don’t have a current address on file with election officials, will not be sent a mail ballot. The bill will allow voters to opt out of being mailed a ballot by providing written notice to their local or county election clerk, and the measure maintains certain minimum requirements for in-person polling places.

That is, Nevada's election system now aims to make it easier for everyone to vote, just what Republicans fear.

• • •

This is happening at a time when the Democratic Party may be losing some of its electoral edge. After long years during which Dems had a huge advantage among voters' stated party preferences, that's going away:

The trends here are clear: The Democratic lead in statewide voter registration has decreased by about 40 percent over the last four cycles and non-major-party registration has increased by 50 percent. (The numbers are actually slightly larger since November; both major parties have lost more ground.)
Nevada voting guru Jon Ralston attributes some of this shift to successful implementation of opt-out Motor Voter registration. Everyone who comes in contact with the Nevada DMV is now automatically registered to vote, but without a party preference unless they take additional action. He speculates that the growing fraction of independents in the Washoe County/Reno area lean Democratic, while in the far more populous Clark County/Las Vegas region they lean right.

Yes -- Nevada is a still a swing state.

• • •

Democratic Party post-2020 election polling from Equis revealed Latinx community voting trends peculiar to Nevada. (Nevada is not Florida or Texas!)

In Nevada, our post-election survey showed that Trump benefited from [shifting] Clinton16 > Trump20 voters, but in even greater measure from new Latino voters who hadn’t voted in 2016 despite having been eligible then.

Importantly, these new Trump voters in Nevada (both those who hadn’t voted for Trump, or voted at all, in 2016) are less polarized, in terms of ideology or partisanship, than your usual Republican voters. 
In general, we know enough to say that the “new” Trump voters look like true swing voters. (Listening to them in focus groups reinforces the point powerfully). 
Neither party should assume that a Hispanic voter who cast a ballot for Trump in 2020 is locked in as a Republican going forward. Nor can we assume this shift was exclusive to Trump and will revert back on its own. 
And if there’s a lesson for the future, it is to watch the margins and those voters who often remain invisible: the ones who stayed home and the many others aging into the electorate. After all, no two electorates are the same [people in different years].

In Nevada, probably most especially in the Las Vegas area, nothing replaces Latinx people talking with Latinx neighbors to get out a progressive vote. The Culinary Union, which organizes workers in the hotel and casino industry, has long taken the lead here; can the union still fill this role when its industry is recovering from the pandemic? We'll see.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

We can't be afraid to name fascism when we see it

Kelley teaching W.E.B. DuBois' Black Reconstruction
New Yorker staff writer Vincent Cunningham interviewed UCLA historian Robin D. G. Kelley for the L.A. Times about history and the current moment. What does historical inquiry mean to a Black man who views himself as, of necessity, a participant in, as well as a describer of, the permanent struggle for justice and freedom? Here is some of that conversation.

VC: What do you view as your role as an intellectual? ... how do you make sure that what you’re describing is not only scrupulously true but also feeds into a politics that helps us both survive in the present and get somewhere more free in the future? 
RDGK: That’s a great question. I feel like it’s not mandatory but it’s really important for me to be engaged in these movements, to make no pretense about some kind of dispassionate, detached objectivity. I think that we need to practice something that’s even better than objectivity. And that is, as you know, critique. Critique, to me, is better than objectivity. Objectivity is a false stance. I’m not neutral. I’ve never been neutral. I write about struggles and social movements because I actually don’t think the world is right and something needs to change. 
As a historian, as a writer, I’ve got to try to be as critical as possible. I’m always trying to be truthful. As I write and produce this work, I learn things that we didn’t see before, but then, the work also reveals things that I failed to understand. And so to me, it’s always a process....
• • •
VC: You’ve said that in some ways the Black radical tradition comes together at “the crossroads where Black revolt and fascism meet.” What does fascism have to do with our moment, and what resources do we have to fight it?

RDGK: I would say — following the argument that [Afro-Caribbean nationalist] Aimé Césaire made in 1950, and that [exile from Nazism political philosopher] Hannah Arendt made after that — that the roots of fascism are in colonial domination. 
Fascism is the power of the state, through coercion and through nationalism, to mark certain people through brutal suppression of rights, especially using emergency powers. It’s the idea that we’re in a state of war and that state of war is justification for abrogating any kind of civil liberties. In some ways, that’s what colonialism is. 
VC: The constant state of war. 
RDGK: For certain people, America has been fascist all along, and it just depends on what side you’re on. The vast majority of people can’t see fascism in a democracy where they can vote, and where they can walk freely. But for some of us, for undocumented people, for Black people, brown people, for Indigenous peoples especially, who’ve been put in concentration camps — all these fascist practices have existed in the United States from the get-go, from the beginning. What we see is fascism ebbing and flowing. 
The [police and prison] abolitionist movements that erupted in 2020 are the movements that are dead set on ending fascism once and for all. “Fascism” is a word that we can’t be afraid of. I can’t say everything is fascist, but we can’t be afraid of recognizing the fascist elements that have been foundational to this country. ...

We live in interesting times. Seventy-seven years after the "democratic" combatants -- the U.S., the U.K., and Canada -- invaded Europe to wipe out Nazi fascism, we have Republican legislators passing laws to legalize driving into groups of protesters. It's not hard to imagine that such laws are most likely to immunize road ragers who hit people who aren't white. Unhappily, we are likely to find out.

Those of us who have enjoyed comfortable lives didn't think that the D-Day generation's struggle would return, at home. But in a new guise -- from the MAGA swamp of the Republican Party -- it has.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

A New York City mayor wannabe trolls police union

Erudite Partner's father, a devoted New York City resident, always said that being New York's mayor was the toughest job in politics. He may have been right. It's hard for me to fathom why anyone wants the post ...

But a considerable number of Democratic candidates do very much want the job; eight of them are considered "major" by the media. Whoever comes out on top of the ranked choice voting on June 22 (returns may take weeks) pretty much wins the job, though there will be a second round against some sacrificial Republican in the fall.

I have not studied the promises of any of the contenders. But that admitted, I know I'd be taking lawyer Maya Wiley as my first choice -- for the simple minded reason that I've met her. A civil rights lawyer seems as good a fit as anyone for the job and she's a sharp one.

And I like her current campaign ad and the reaction it's gotten.

The Washington Post's Dave Weigel lays out a little cynically how he thinks its spin works:

Wiley's spot highlights police overreactions during last summer's civil rights protests, and says that “it is time the NYPD sees us as people who deserve to breathe.” The ad got a swift, angry response from police unions, which was the point: In a Democratic primary in the current climate, being on the wrong side of those unions is a plus ...

I like an election where, among some large fraction of the electorate, baiting the police union into showing their bigotry is a win. 

Wherever there is particularly abusive policing, there is almost always an out-of-control police union. Way to go Maya!

Friday, June 04, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Janeway can sure extend her body when she wants to.