Saturday, July 31, 2021

Does U.S. democracy need our tired old Democratic and Republican parties? Part two.

Let's come at the question of whether we need political parties through another point of view.

Valentina Lares is a Venezuelan journalist and managing editor of, an investigative journalism site. Somewhat to her own amazement, she mourns what has become of formerly potent political parties all over the world.

The first time I voted, a little more than 20 years ago, my options were straightforward: I could vote for a conservative politician put forward by a conservative party, or I could vote for a liberal candidate put forward by a liberal party. I didn’t much like either of them, but each was proposing a recognizable path for my country, Venezuela, to follow.

 ... Let’s be clear: It’s not that anyone really liked those old parties, with their clubbiness and their corruption. It’s just that we knew who they were. We knew where their ideas came from, we knew from what clay their ideas had been molded and whose interests they championed. Your identity folded neatly into your vote: If you were a union member, you voted for the Social Democrats; if you went to church, you voted for the Christian Democrats. Simple.

But all over the world, she sees splintering and allegiance to particular individual persons replacing those old party identities.
... The multiplication of parties has been accompanied by widespread doctrinal hollowing. In Latin America, for instance, we’re no longer liberals or conservatives, radicals or centrists. We are chavistas, uribistas, correístas, bolsonaristas, fujimoristas, kirchneristas. What ideas do they represent, what vision do they champion beyond support for a given person? It’s often hard to tell. 
Even the oldest, most established democracies are not immune from all this: in the U.S. the GOP has morphed into a simple vehicle for Trumpism. ... Where parties can’t serve as a locus for traditional, big-tent identities, politics dissolves into a squabble between personalities.
Her prescription for this political chaos:
The challenge is to leave room for new political groupings, while avoiding a free-for-all. To put forward a comprehensive vision of a better future, alongside a reasonable way to make it a reality. We have a right to know where they propose to take our countries, and how. It’s time we demand that those who aspire to lead us take that responsibility seriously.
For all the anxiety of the current moment -- and there is plenty to worry about with so many GOPers applauding the January 6 coup attempt -- I'm watching an emerging generation of people using the Democratic Party label fill that label with as much plausible substance as it's had in my life time. Yes, there's the Biden administration's ambitious climate and social welfare initiatives and that's encouraging.  But, more, there are also the likes of India Walton, the socialist nurse who won the Democratic nomination for mayor of Buffalo. She doesn't love the Democratic Party, but she might redeem it.  

If Walton is the future of the Democrats, I agree with Michelle Goldberg, we've got a chance:

“The challenge of the left is that we use our jargony activist language and don’t take time to fully explain what we mean to those who may not be as ‘woke’ as we are,” [Walton] told me.

... Instead of “defund,” she said, “we say we’re going to reallocate funds. We’re going to fully fund community centers. We’re going to make the investments that naturally reduce crime, such as investments in education, infrastructure, living-wage jobs. Nothing stops crime better than a person who’s gainfully employed. If you have to go to work, you don’t have time to be out in the streets with all these shenanigans.” 
... In some ways, Walton epitomizes the winning formula for left-wing candidates. Today’s left is basically a coalition between well-educated liberal professionals and working-class people of color. Often those best able to unite these groups are people of color with radical ideals and working-class ties. Look at the leftists who’ve been elected to Congress in recent years: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender. Jamaal Bowman was a principal in the Bronx. Cori Bush, like Walton, was a nurse.
An old line Democrat, the incumbent Buffalo mayor, is trying to stop Walton in November through a write-in campaign. Her kind of Democrat wasn't supposed to exist. We'll see if money and inertia can stop her.

Folks like Walton make a Democratic Party I can relate to, more than at any time in my life. I'm surprised, but that's a happy thought in a scary landscape. 

More on Walton here. 

Part one of this series on political parties here.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Does U.S. democracy need our tired old Democratic and Republican parties? Part one.

Fareed Zakaria is Mr. Olympian Cosmopolitan Globalist on CNN. In an interview with Sean Illing, he's optimistic about liberal democracy around the world. That's not nothing, as his country of origin, India, is one of the places where he observes that the survival of democracy seems most precarious. But despite Trump's attempted insurrection on January 6 and continuing Big Lie, he's optimistic about the resilience of the U.S. system. Despite lapsing into some absurd false equivalence between the Dems and GOPers, he makes an interesting argument about our political parties:

The reason parties have been so central to the preservation of liberal democracy is that they channel public passions, public emotion, public anger, public joy, into programs and policies that are compatible with a liberal democratic framework. At their best, that’s what parties do. And parties act as gatekeepers. They rule out the most extreme fringes on both sides. 
What has happened in America, ever since the onset of the primaries in the 1960s, is we have eviscerated the political parties and empowered all kinds of non-party actors — from the candidates themselves to the rich — through fundraising processes. And the effect of that has been that the parties have gotten hollowed out. ... [He concedes with a a little prompting that] this is particularly true of the Republican Party. So the party caves to Trump because they’re all worried about losing the next primary, about losing the funding that comes at those early stages, which all tends to come from the most passionate and the most committed. ...
I think Zakaria's observation about how primaries function has a lot of truth to it -- but I think the degeneration of the parties includes something more which may be particularly visible here in California: much of politics is just about  keeping a big campaign industry afloat rather than about public opinions or public policies. The political universe supports a swarm of media manipulators, data operatives, pollsters, dirty tricksters, and aspiring strategic consultants, most of whom are only vaguely ideological, though most carry a nominal party identification. These people need jobs. At least some of the time, they necessarily work on campaigns which are more about a paycheck than a passion. 

And, though slightly differently, the same goes for many politicians. They too adopt a party label. A few run for public office because they are willing to devote themselves to advancing particular policy objectives -- think Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. It's possible that just about all aspiring pols begin with big ideas they hope to implement. But most of them, successful or not, end up mediocre practitioners of the day to day business of government. They can't all be superstars. Whereupon, for offices holders as well the campaign industrial complex, their business becomes winning and retaining their (elected) jobs.

And more than the parties, it's these professional pols who raise the money that keeps the campaign industry going. Most are mediocre, but the survivors are good at fundraising. There's an axiom in philanthropic fundraising that donors -- including, even especially, foundations -- don't really give money to programs, they give to people, individuals who have established relationships and trust. This is also true of politicians. Politicians, whatever their programmatic aims, thrive on building relationships with donors.

So -- though our political parties stand, in a dilute way, for some public policies and some particular public passions, they simply aren't where the money that keeps the political business going is located. The money goes to individual pols. In fact, the parties are dependent on their superstars to fill their coffers. And their superstars can hold the party apparatus captive because they are the rainmakers for the whole enterprise. In some states and nationally, the party apparatus is a kind of facade for the individual rain makers.

No wonder a Trump can sweep in and take over one of our two big parties. There was never as much there there in the Republican Party as it imagined. Conservative ideology turned out to be mask, a weak signifier with not much content. This is particularly a vulnerability of a small tent enterprise, a party whose coalition is limited and shrinking.

But since Trump doesn't share cash -- or anything -- it could also kill off the Republican Party over time. The country has plenty of right wing nuts, small and large donors, but will they shell out for both the Party and the Donald? That's one of the questions the Trump-GOP engulfment poses. 

Meanwhile, turning up fascist engagement in the base seems the only recourse left for mediocre politicians who have long since given up any ambition for anything but holding on to power.

Friday cat blogging

At this angle, Janeway's nose freckle stands out. There's an inexhaustible reservoir of want in those eyes. What does she want?

Thursday, July 29, 2021

We don't always have to listen to a braying crowd

Just when it seems the crazies and cranks have taken over, data emerges to suggest the nuttiness is actually only a few loud mouths. Take a look at this poll about the teaching of U.S. history:

Click to enlarge.

This is just one poll, though the 1000 registered voters is in the normal range for a well done national survey sample. 

And it turns out that huge majorities -- over 85 percent of us -- want the Civil War, slavery, and the Civil Rights movement taught in schools. Education about white mob violence and Jim Crow law is a little less popular, down in the mid-60 percent range. But mostly, we know we have to go there.

Overwhelmingly, citizens, and particularly parents, do want an unvarnished U.S. history taught in schools. Don't let Tucker Carlson tell you differently.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Uncovering the vile lie

Congressman Bennie Thompson has represented Mississippi's Second Congressional District since 1993. That long tenure has qualified him to lead the House Committee on Homeland Security. And so now, he presides over the inquiry into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. 

In most of the media -- appropriately -- the focus of reporting from yesterday has been on the dramatic testimony of the four officers who barely survived fighting off attacking right wing thugs. 

But watching the proceedings, I was struck by part of Thompson's opening statement. He screened a montage of video from the insurrection, concluding with a shouted threat from one of the invading rioters. Then Thompson offered this:

He'll be back, he warns us. It's just chilling.

I thank God that our democracy—and our Republic—withstood the assault. But that man's warning reminds us that this threat hasn't gone away. It looms over our democracy like a dark cloud.

Some people are trying to deny what happened. To whitewash it. To turn the insurrectionists into martyrs. But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6th. The hangman's gallows sitting out there on our National Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union, being paraded through the Capitol. The hatred. The bigotry. The violence.

And all of it: for a vile, vile lie. Let's be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie. As Chairman of this Committee, I will not give that lie any fertile ground. ...

In this moment of national possibility, when we're moving beyond the pandemic and perhaps into some more active, constructive, government than in the last 40 years, I don't want to dwell on backlash, to fixate on our angry dead-enders who lash out against the multi-racial democracy we can glimpse distantly. Prosecutions for proven thuggery are grinding on. But realizing our national hope demands attention to this investigation, to uncovering the full story of the attempted coup against the election.

Thanks, Chairman Thompson.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Going to the dogs

Feeling a little overwhelmed today, so I'll just share a few dogs I've met recently.

I'm told that dog adoptions soared during the lockdown time. Nice to see these getting some fresh air and doing doggie things.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Theft of democracy

With the House of Representative inquiry into the January 6 assault on the U.S. capitol set to begin tomorrow, it would be worth listening again to the observations of the judge who sentenced the first of some 500+ persons charged for actions that day. 

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss explained to Paul Hodgkins why he was being given an 8 month sentence for pleading to one felony count of obstructing an official proceeding:  

Hodgkins was one of a small handful of Capitol rioters who made it into the Senate chamber during the attack, appearing with a Trump flag inside the chamber not long after lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence had fled the room.

“The symbolism of that act is unmistakable,” Moss said. “He was staking a claim on the floor of the United States Senate not with an American flag, but with a flag declaring his loyalty to a single individual over the nation.”

“In that act, he captured the theft of democracy that we all witnessed that day,” the judge added.

 ... “The attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, in which Mr. Hodgkins actively participated, at the very least tarnished that happy history,” Moss said.

... "It makes us question whether our democracy is less secure than what we previously believed just seven months ago.”

Great to see that Reps. Jamie Raskin and Adam Schiff are on the special investigatory committee. They proved their ability to grasp the enormity of Trumpian offenses during the two impeachment proceedings. There's no doubt they'll be obstructed by GOPers, but we need them to expose every fact about the insurrection they can dig out.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Library updates itself

After 15 long months closed, it looks as if there's action at the Mission Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. That doesn't mean our local outpost is opening up -- it means that the optimistic remodeling plan projected two years ago is getting underway. 

Architects have a tough job. The building is an elegant turn of the 20th century edifice, one of 2,509 built between 1883 and 1929 with funds donated by the philanthropic steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. I think it is fair to say that he hoped by offering access to books in neo-classical environments he would reinforce the industry of the immigrant masses who were his workforce. Whatever his motivation, all over the country libraries still use his buildings -- and struggle to adapt these physical structures to modern requirements.

This imposing, closed off, former main entrance conveys a sense of where architects have to start.

Before the pandemic, neighborhood surveys and a city planning process had determined that what the space needs is better facilities for children's story hours and better wired study space for low income students. But how the interior might reflect the neighborhood was still up in the air.

Then the other day this appeared on the unused doors: 

The posters show three designs by local muralists proposed for one sealed-off window that looms over the main reading room. The Library Commission is offering all interested people an opportunity to comment on the proposed designs, deadline August 5. Go ahead, take a look.

Mission Local has much more, including artist biographies. 

Which do I prefer? Not sure at all. Any would be a great addition to this strange, serviceable, much-loved architectural oddity. I think I lean toward this antic offering from Javier G. Rocabado.

Los Hijos del Maiz is dedicated to René Yañez, the late curator of SOMArts.  Using the Día de los Muertos concept, this piece illustrates the traditions, achievements, and contributions of Latinx people to the Mission District and society at large.  The Día de los Muertos concept speaks of our ancestors, while the Graduate speaks of the Future, bridging millennia of history.

But your mileage may vary. This a participatory project.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Great news -- amid a revealing frame

Ruth Maclean reports from Senegal that legislators in the nearby West African nation of Sierra Leone have voted to abolish the death penalty. In this, they follow the trend among African countries. 

The vote in Sierra Leone came against the backdrop of a steady march in Africa to discard brutal laws imposed by past colonial masters. In April, Malawi ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. In May of 2020, Chad did the same.

Nearly half of Africa’s 54 independent countries have abolished the punishment, more than double the number from less than two decades ago.

Sabrina Mahtani, the co-founder and former executive director of AdvocAid said Sierra Leone’s decision to do away with capital punishment was remarkable especially because it is still recovering from the 1991-2002 civil war that was characterized by intolerance, atrocities and extreme violence. ...

“Here’s a small country in West Africa that had a brutal civil war 20 years ago and they’ve managed to abolish the death penalty,” Ms. Mahtani said. “They would actually be an example for you, U.S., rather than it always being the other way around.”

African anti-death penalty activists hold on to hope that Ghana and Nigeria might follow their smaller neighbors. 

Ms. Mahtani is certain she knows the origin of execution laws in West Africa: 

“The death penalty is a colonial imposition, and these laws were inherited from the U.K.”

If anti-colonial national pride can help prompt death penalty repeal, let's hope for more of that sort of sentiment. 

Photo credit: City Center, Kabala, Sierra Leone, October 2009

Friday, July 23, 2021

Friday cat blogging


As anyone who has talked with me about my Walking San Francisco project knows, my most consistent observation has been that in every neighborhood -- every neighborhood! -- many households decorate their yards with plaster lions.

Many of these look like this, though the painted toenails are a nice touch. I mentally catalogue them as European lions.

There are also standard variants of Asian origin, as might be expected in this city. 

All this to say, I delighted in discovering this lion-cum-planter the other day. Now that's one big cat. I have no idea what Janeway would make of it.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

When advocacy is relegated to grafitti

In the magazine Jewish Currents, Peter Beinart has probed the asymmetrical bigotry the U.S. mainstream throws at people of Palestinian background.

Why is this widespread anti-Palestinian bigotry so difficult to name? Because until society decides that members of a certain group deserve equality, the bigotry that they and their supporters endure generally remains invisible.

The history of the word “antisemitism” offers a glimpse into how this works. As Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at the University of London, explained to me, 19th century English-speakers had no special term for bigotry against Jews until they imported “antisemitism” from Germany, where it had emerged in the1870s. Why did the term “antisemitism” emerge there at that time? Because, Feldman argues in a 2018 essay in the American Historical Review, it was in 1871 that German Jews “decisively” gained “civil and political equality.” In other words, it was only after Jewish equality gained some political legitimacy that opposing it denoted a specific form of bigotry. Before that, treating Jews as inferior didn’t require a special term because it was unremarkable, the normal order of things.

That’s roughly the situation for Palestinians today. ... what remains largely unnameable is the idea that Palestinians deserve equality, and that denying them equality—or penalizing Americans for advocating their equality—thus constitutes a form of bigotry.

... It is up to Palestinians to decide how to wage their struggle for freedom. But since pro-Israel organizations in the US have made it nearly impossible to discuss Israel-Palestine without addressing questions of anti-Jewish bigotry, Americans of all backgrounds have a responsibility to ask why even blatant expressions of anti-Palestinian bigotry pass almost unnoticed. ...

As a culture, we're not very good at appreciating the lives and travails of people from faraway places. Most of us can afford not to look. But we are learning, painfully, to set more inclusive standards for ourselves and to recognize bigotry embedded in accustomed practices and systems. We need to offer that same standard to Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans -- and be ready to listen up!

Read Beinart's full article.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Welcome back, indeed

I haven't gotten over how wonderful it is to be an enjoying something of a return to Before. Those of us who are vaccinated -- which is most of us around here -- aren't driving the current surge in COVID cases. We're not totally out of the woods, but just maybe, the end of the initial SARS-Covid-2 phase is in sight. here. 

Anyone over 12 who isn't vaccinated can get the shot free at any pharmacy. In the last few days, even Fox News is coming around. Did Rupert Murdoch decide that playing anti-vaxxer for the GOP was hurting the stock market?

Yesterday I encountered this at the Excelsior branch of the San Francisco Public Library which I've adopted while the Mission Branch remains closed -- likely for years for planned remodeling.  I'm delighting in the ordinariness of the scene.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

War is too important to be left to Presidents

Of course we aren't really done with the forever wars, because we're still living with the distortions they've midwifed within our institutions on the homefront.

Failed wars have been the impetus for efforts to refine the Constitutional framework within which (more or less) we make war. The 1973 War Powers Act which attempted to set some limits on presidential power to lead the country off to fight was a product of the Vietnam debacle (and Richard Nixon's failed presidency.) It's not been much of a success. Presidents of both parties don't like being constrained by Congress.

An interesting coalition of bi-partisan Senators is trying once again to return war-making authority to Congress. Constitutional history is on their side. Bernie Sanders, our exemplary Vermont democratic socialist, has teamed up with Mike Lee, a Utah libertarian with a Mormon's appreciation of the Constitution, and Chris Murphy, a smart Connecticut centrist Democrat.

Their project is ambitious.

The measure seeks to replace the War Powers Act of 1973 with a series of better-defined, and arguably more stringent directives to the current and future administrations about when to approach Congress for permission to conduct military operations. It would define “hostilities” as any operation requiring the use of force, remotely or directly — superseding the unofficial custom of administrations interpreting the law as applying only when there are troops on the ground. It also would shorten the time that presidents have to engage in those hostilities from 60 to 20 days and automatically terminate funding for an operation if a president fails to secure congressional support for the venture by that deadline. 
Lawmakers have argued that such prescriptions are necessary to force presidents to recognize Congress’s power to declare war, given to the legislative branch under Article I of the Constitution. But successive presidential administrations have argued that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional for restricting the president’s authority as commander in chief, as defined under Article II of the Constitution. 

The legislation seeks to impose similar authority over how administrations conclude arms sales and declare national emergencies; it would require the president to secure affirmative votes from Congress before finalizing such sales, instead of leaving it to lawmakers to come up with veto-proof majorities on tight timetables to block them.

... Typically, it is difficult for Congress to come up with veto-proof majorities to block presidential action. That was also the case in 2019, when Trump declared a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, to enable him to divert billions of military construction funds by fiat to build a wall. The new bill from Murphy, Lee and Sanders would curtail any national emergency that Congress does not approve within 30 days, and it would limit Congress’s authorizations of such emergencies to one year at a time, with a total limit of five years.

We are very unlikely to see anything so restrictive pass. Presidents like to take unfettered action; they argue, with justification, that Congress can be both timid (glad to pass the buck) and mindlessly bellicose (when that's the popular mood.) But the war making power was originally intended to be placed in Congress, as the branch of government closest to the people's sentiments. And for all the changes of the last 200 years, Congress is still the arena most malleable in response to popular action. 

So cheers for these Senators -- get what you can from the opportunity created by our latest failed wars.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Afghanistan on my mind

I suppose I should write about the U.S. departure from Afghanistan. I must have written some 100 posts in some way about that imperial adventure. The topic leaves me sad and weary and glad to see it go.

Early on, I harbored some slight hope that, with Osama bin Laden chased into Pakistan along with his Taliban hosts, the U.S. could declare victory and leave the Afghans to sort themselves out. This would be hard on Afghan women (and on the hopes of modernizing Afghans like San Francisco's Tamim Ansary) but there never seemed any prospect our incursion could do much good.

The war led to some insightful books. I think particularly of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan and Sarah Chayes' Thieves of State. Those should endure, though they may seem obscure today.

The Afghanistan war provoked many heated and smart conversations among the U.S. troops who had to die and fight in it. Here's a sample, yanked from military correspondent Thomas Rick's blog.

But mostly, the war became no more than intra-Afghan death and dying, with some Pakistani and U.S. and E.U. interlopers swept into the chaotic carnage. Serious observers understood this by the beginning of Obama's presidency in 2009, but somehow U.S. military and politicians couldn't let go their clusterfuck in someone else's country.

My belief was always that our invasion should never have happened: al-Qaeda was a problem for the International Criminal Court for whom we could have provided some muscle. But that's not how my country -- that in those days was confidently the world's superpower -- chose to play its hand.

So, after 20 years of futility, we're getting out. Let's hope we can stay out and not revive this shit show. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Republicans' long con

My smart friend Scot Nakagawa makes some points that, in our revulsion from white nationalist posturing, it would be easy to skip over. The attack on the teaching of "critical race theory" -- really on any sort of mention of racism in the schools which makes some white parents uneasy -- has a more strategic purpose than just stoking cultural fears and resentments. [My emphasis in what follows.]

First, here’s what’s most obvious to me. The Republican Party is using the attack on CRT to make the argument that racist expression is a form of liberty, and those who are trying to eradicate racism are doing so to eradicate liberty, making us unAmerican. 

... Second, I think the attack on CRT is a means by which the GOP is adapting their traditional base to the new, overt white nationalist wing of the Party. So we’re witnessing something very dangerous. GOP is facilitating a merger between the far-right and the near right and that, I probably don’t need to tell you, is a very bad development. 

... Thirdly, I think we need to view the attack on CRT in the context of fascistic politics. In that context, it seems pretty apparent that the anti-CRT push is an attack on truth; as much a big lie as the idea that the election was stolen.

Reality is the enemy of fascistic politics because, in reality, autocrats aren’t really concerned about the interests of their base. By appealing to white nationalism in order to reach for power, the aspiring autocrats of the GOP have abandoned realpolitik. Or, put more simply, they’ve opted to build a popular front for oligarchy based on what amounts to political road rage, where the best case scenario appears to be that their pissed off drivers will abandon practical considerations of life in order to tailgate perceived enemies and drive them off the road. ...

“White” is just an adjective describing one, politically constructed characteristic of white people. When white nationalism wins, the white in white nationalism is no longer relevant. ...

Those doofuses with the Confederate and Nazi flags are just suckers. Their racism makes them marks for authoritarian oligarchs.

I think progressive white people's political work needs to include impeding Republicans' sought-after merger of the far right and the near right. As Scot has said elsewhere (and I've highlighted), we need when possible to participate in mainstream institutions within which we can keep contact with folks who are not altogether corrupted by the fascists.

Not my idea of fun, but there it is.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Something to be grateful for as the virus surges among us again

Joe Biden says: 

“They’re killing people,” he said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that — and they’re killing people.”

The "they" refers to social media platforms -- Facebook, etc. -- our outrage-for-profit amplifiers. He doesn't directly call out the crackpots, the wingers, and the Donald who spew gushers of garbage. He knows he can't directly reach the confused, angry and anguished consumers of this stuff. He might be able to shame/inhibit the medium in which it thrives.

But notably, he doesn't reach the conclusion that a lesser person might. We have a President whose response to social dysfunction is not simply to say "good riddance" -- after a year of lock-down, isolation, and dislocation, if they want to kill themselves by refusing a saving vaccine, let 'em go. 

I'm sure there are few among us who have not had that thought. Like believing junk, it's only human.

But Biden doesn't go there. Dude is modeling being a civilized adult.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Friday cat blogging

We met on one of those cold, windy, gray San Francisco summer days. He was probably glad to be inside.
He posed, offering the photographer his best noble profile.
Through dirty glass and bars, we're in this together.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Whose feelings matter?

Annette Gordon-Reed is a distinguished scholar of American history, the chronicler of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family and On Juneteenth. At Salon, Chauncey DeVega elicited this from her during a recent interview about our troubled society.

Why are so many (white) people upset by basic facts about the color line and its centrality to American history
Guilt. That is why there are people who don't want to talk about race or slavery or related topics in schools because white children will supposedly feel upset. That is the heart of white identity politics. The idea that a child is going to look back at something that happened in the 1730s and say, "Oh, those are white people. Those are my people, and I must defend those people." That same child will then supposedly feel bad because challenging things are being said about them. 
In practice it means that Black people's feelings do not matter. We want to tell the story of our ancestors. We have to keep quiet so that white people do not feel bad. 
There is a choice being made there. They could easily repudiate what happened in the past and say, "We're going to do something different and move forward." But instead, the response is to be defensive. It puts white people and whiteness at the center of the universe, and everybody else is just peripheral to that. Only their feelings count. There are some white people who truly feel that way.
Tucker Carlson, the Fox TV bloviator and all-purpose Republican fascist knows exactly whose feelings matter. His.

An exhaustive and exhausting profile of this privileged twit looks back to when he somehow was included in a visit along with African Americans to a Ghanaian castle from which enslaved people were shipped across the Atlantic. 

The Rev. Albert Sampson, a former associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was astonished by Carlson's lack of emotion, calling Tucker's inability to respond to the haunting horror a "tragedy."

Carlson remembered the visit differently:

“Sampson was trying to make me feel guilty,” Carlson wrote in an account for Esquire. “It wasn’t obvious to me at the time. The idea that I’d be responsible for the sins (or, for that matter, share in the glory of the accomplishments) of dead people who happened to share my skin tone has always confused me. Racial solidarity wasn’t a working concept in my southern-California hometown.”
Now I need to say, I'm no fan of guilt. Guilt is for wallowing. It's mostly self-indulgence.

I'm a fan of taking responsibility, of active participation in struggles, particularly those initiated and endorsed by various people of color, to move the society beyond reflexive white supremacy. What else is there to do?

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Happy Bastille Day

Perhaps it's worth remembering that frustrated French citizens finally stormed the prison. 

It's an interesting question whether I should be adding, "Many happy returns ..."

Seen in the 'hood. We're cosmopolitan around here.

Who's paying to torture LGBT+ East Africans?

Open Democracy is an international investigative news-gathering effort which describes itself as practicing "free thinking for the world." Recently it sponsored an investigation into which international aid groups were funding so-called "conversion therapy" in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, all countries where homophobia is government policy.

‘Conversion therapy’ describes a range of practices – from talk therapy to physical ‘treatments’ – that attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. It has been condemned by more than 60 associations of doctors, psychologists and counsellors globally.

Reporters found that the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is a major funder of  initiatives which use these practices. USAID responded to inquiries by saying it would look into the situation, but PEPFAR did not respond to questions.

Here a young feminist reporter shares her horror at what she discovered was going on in her home region.

Open Democracy's petition to the US government to stop this complicity in abuse seems one worth signing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

What we can do; how we get through doing it

The lived reality of a warming climate is terrifying. Drought, rising seas, hurricanes, burning forests ... it's all too much for most humans to take in, which helps explain how we came to build a civilization which ensures it will happen. So, we did just that and it's happening.

David Roberts is the clearest explainer of climate science and climate policy that I know of. So I'm going to share here what he says is the Main Thing we could and should be doing to avert the worst.

Clean electrification is the entrée. Everything else is a side.

How can the US hit net-zero emissions by or before 2050, a goal shared by almost every Democrat and, at least rhetorically, by some Republicans? ...

... while different climate models disagree about which policies and technologies will be needed to clean up remaining emissions after 2030, virtually all of them agree on what’s needed over the next decade. It’s clean electrification:

  1. clean up the electricity grid by replacing fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy, batteries, and other zero-carbon resources;

  2. clean up transportation by replacing gasoline and diesel vehicles — passenger vehicles, delivery trucks and vans, semi-trucks, small planes, agricultural and mining equipment, etc. — with electric vehicles; and

  3. clean up buildings by replacing furnaces and other appliances that run on fossil fuels with electric equivalents.

Or as I summarize it: electrify everything!

Clean electrification is the entrée. If you decarbonize electricity, transportation, and buildings, you’ve taken out the three biggest sources of emissions in virtually every country. The technologies and policies we need to do it exist today, ready to deploy. 

So I'm looking into an electric hot water heater ... and urging you to subscribe to David Robert's Substack: Volts.

• • •

Matt Yglesias is down on the Sunrise Movement and climate hawks generally for raising a public howl against perceived inadequacies in the climate elements in the Biden administration's infrastructure proposals. 

Is it [the "bipartisan" fig leaf] the most amazing bill in the universe? Of course not. But it’s a good bill. And if passing it on a bipartisan basis makes moderate senators feel happy, that’s great. And if Republicans tank a bipartisan bill and that makes moderate senators feel angry at Republicans, that’s great. But instead, climate groups seem to have decided they want to try to sink the bill from the left, on the theory that Biden is a “coward” and the bill doesn’t address climate issues. ... the idea that this bill does not contain climate measures is just clearly false.

... Will that solve climate change? No. Should it cause everyone to shut up about the issue and never press for anything new? No. But should it induce a crowd of protestors to come to the White House and get mad at Joe Biden for not addressing climate change? That’s absurd. 

Yglesias is a fine policy dissector but he's missing how norm changing politics works in our fractious dispersed polity. It goes something like this:

• Outsiders think up the unthinkable. Here are some novel ideas: Black people are just as human as white people. Or gay people should be able to get married. Or the society is going to have to find new energy sources and cut out fossil fuels. 

• Neither political party wants much or even anything to do with the radical idea. It might upset some portion of their existing coalition. Because the Democrats really do have a big tent and some understanding of their need to get bigger, the novelty gradually gains a foothold on the fringes of "mainstream" politics.

• If the novelty can be made popular, mostly by the outsiders who first brought it forward, Democrats may incorporate it in their broad program. That's nice.

• If the Dems have power -- and that's rare -- they may try to advance their recently adopted idea. The path will not be easy because our government system makes nothing easy. Some of the original outsiders may be drawn inside, but their influence will continue to depend on agitation from the outsiders. 

And so you get people who never experienced themselves as anything but outsiders picketing outside the White House. It's how they know to make progress; it has worked, sort of, in the past; what else are they supposed to do?

The only way to get them away from the White House is to give them something else to do to win what must be won. I'm pretty sure they've already figured that out and set up periodically on Joe Manchin's lawn. Climate hawks are actually very smart. But thwarted terror and passion can turn very sour.

Where Yglesias is right is that climate warriors can't win with just dramatic messaging. They need to organize a much more sizable fraction of the electorate for whom climate action is their first and foremost demand from government. The climate is doing its part to arouse such masses; most of us want to be able to keep living where we live now, reasonably comfortably. It's climate hawks job to be available to people to connect the dots and organize ever greater numbers of us to afflict our politicians. 

As Roberts explains, the technologists know what to do. The Democrats have gotten to the place where they want to get it done. And it's still true it won't happen without a push from perennial outsiders.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Fires burning: nature has run out of patience

It's not as if we don't know what happening. But can we find the imagination and will to do anything about it?

California wildfires as of July 12

If you've ever wondered just how a heat dome forms, and much more, here's Erudite Partner's latest cogent take at Informed Comment.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Who gets to vote is still up for grabs

The first time I began to understand a bit about how Native Americans' right to vote is frequently denied was in 2004. Not that what I saw that year was anything new ... but it bears remembering.

The Democratic-adjacent political consultancy we were working with in Albuquerque, New Mexico had assigned an eager young man several months before the November presidential election to try to increase the vote coming out of the state's nineteen recognized Pueblos. These tribal entities were deeply rural and isolated, mostly very poor without money jobs except perhaps at a dingy casino, and organized under Native governments. Nowadays, the state of New Mexico advertises them to tourists. Then the Pueblos were just pockets of poverty to be romanticized by whites as historic artifacts and kept out of sight.

Our organizer went to work vigorously. He drove hundreds of dusty miles on dirt roads, held numerous meetings with elders and tribal authorities, and finally persuaded several hundred eligible people to sign up to vote. Then he arranged for their registration forms to be delivered to the appropriate county governments in which their particular pueblos were located.

As Election Day approached, nobody heard anything. The new registrants were not contacted. Finally Democratic Party election lawyers made some calls and were assured that all was well.

On Election Day, our organizer returned to some of the hamlets where he'd worked so hard in order to drive voters to the polls. But his passengers were turned away; there was no record of their registrations. The election lawyers eventually determined that NONE of these 300 or so citizens were entered on the rolls. So they could not vote.

And just to rub it in -- most of the counties where the Pueblos are located were run by white and Hispanic Democrats. It seems that out there in the countryside what disqualified a voter was being a tribal citizen ...

This June, the Native American Voting Rights Coalition issued a report titled: Obstacles at Every Turn.

Not nearly enough has changed since 2004 for Native voters: too many election rules seem designed to make voting very difficult. Potential Native voters are disqualified by not having addresses recognized by the post office, by election offices and polling places which are only open limited hours, by limited numbers of polling places, and by having to take costly drives over long distances on unpaved roads in order to cast a ballot.

And then last week, the Supreme Court approved an Arizona law which strictly limits who can carry a voter's completed ballot to their polling place. This is aimed straight at impeding voting by tribal citizens living far off the beaten path. The highest court has made it abundantly clear that it will not protect against partisan, often racist, restrictions on voting.

National legislation protecting voting rights would seem the obvious remedy -- but it seems we may not get this because of the unwillingness of a few Democrats in the U.S. Senate to use their power to make it happen.

Voting rights for Native Americans still depend on the determination of the people to claim the vote.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

What's with Joe Biden?

Rebecca Traister, one of the best journalists around, has done it again -- announced what should have been our conventional wisdom but which had been unsaid. 

In a long, smart article about why the Biden presidency seems so much more novel, more unexpected, and more leftish, than many of us dared hope, she offers this: 

[Felicia] Wong [president and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute] put it more simply. “He’s so old,” she said, “that it turns out he’s actually pre-neoliberal.”

Biden came of age politically among vestiges of the New Deal coalition. He — like some of the other septuagenarians who really have been thanklessly agitating for reform over decades, including 78-year-old [Rep. Rosa] DeLauro, 79-year-old Sanders, and 74-year-old Barbara Lee — has a lived frame of reference for the fact that Democrats are capable of doing things differently. It’s just that since the 1980s, they’ve chosen not to.

This rings profoundly true to me. Politically, I too am of that pre-neoliberal political generation. I think it is the job of government to rein in greed, to control the cupidity, cruelty, and stupidity of an unconstrained market system. 

I always knew that Ronald Reagan was a carnival barker for the wealthy, for the racists, for robber barons who would destroy our inheritance in land and water. I mean, what else is someone who launched his presidential campaign with a states rights speech in Neshoba, MS, the site of some of the Civil Rights-era's most grisly murders of workers trying to register Black voters? What else is a California governor who claimed that trees cause air pollution?

Reagan normalized a lot of crap. Biden's administration is not only trying (fitfully) to clean up after Trump's incompetence and corruption -- his people are also trying to replace the perversion of government function that came in with Reagan. 

Sometimes an old codger has something to offer, so old it feels new again.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Friday cat blogging

How can a young adult with so much vinegar in her be so sweet? Homage welcome when not racing about.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

It's recall season in California ...

You've probably heard of the big one: on September 14, Gov. Gavin is on the ballot in a special election. We get to say "yes" or "no" to him -- and then, on a separate line, to vote on which of a collection of Republican mediocrities, has-beens, and crackpots we might like to replace him if we vote him out on the first question. Polls say we won't vote Newsom out -- that this a minority effort by GOPers trying to take advantage of post-pandemic voter irritability. 

Pollster Mark Baldassare thinks it's not likely to work ... unless the majority which wants to see Newsom finish out his term stays home. Complaisant Democrats just aren't paying attention.

... we find a 15-point gap between those who want to remove Governor Newsom (27% very, 46% fairly) and those who want to keep him (17% very, 41% fairly) among the share of likely voters who are closely following the news about the recall effort.

Presumably ballots for all registered voters should arrive in the mail, one of the reforms voted by the legislature in the wake of the well-run 2020 election. The Secretary of State's website says counties will begin mailing ballots on August 16. 

Then there are the more local recalls. They are everywhere this year (though mostly not consolidated with the Newsom recall so their dates are not yet known). Election observer Ed Kilgore explains:

Why Recall Fever Is Sweeping California
While all the recalls cannot be dismissed (as many Democrats have tried to do) as GOP or right-wing stunts, there is no question that California’s very weak Republican Party has relied on this type of ballot “protest” more than its counterparts in states that aren’t as dark blue. ... How else can Republicans spend their time in such overwhelmingly pro-Democratic jurisdictions?

We've got a couple of doozy recalls here in San Francisco. 

Plenty of parents and others have had it with our undistinguished school board which couldn't seem to focus on getting the kids back to learning as the pandemic waned. Only three of the current members have served long enough to be eligible for recall (the others were first elected last fall). It doesn't look good for the three.

Ruth Bernstein, CEO of EMC Research, outlined in a June 25 memo to “interested parties” some very worrisome numbers for the school board and the San Francisco Unified School District itself. ... The May polls showed a cumulative 71% negative rating of the school board and just a 10% positive rating.

Recall promoters need 50,000 signatures by Sept. 7. They've gotten about half so far at farmer's markets. I'd bet they make it; there's a lot of passion behind this one. 

I'll probably vote against this recall; I can't believe more turmoil and likely more incompetent management will help. But I'm disgusted enough to feel the impulse to vote this crew out.

On the other hand, I'm disgusted by two efforts to recall our newish (elected 2019) District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Neither our few local GOPers nor a goodly number of our wealthy "moderate" Democrats like his thankless effort to put more justice back in the justice system, especially for low income San Franciscans. He's refused to overcharge or hold people in jail for low level offenses. He's charged four different cops in different episodes with using excessive force and he promises more to come if warranted.

At 48 Hills, local progressive journalist Tim Redmond attempted to unravel who's funding this one. He found some local realtors, some tech bros, some conduits for national police associations -- and a bunch of national Republican millionaire donors. Redmond is dismissive:

Whatever you hear or see about the Boudin recall signature effort, and if it does qualify, the ads that you are going to see, are part of a national right-wing effort to undermine progressive criminal justice reform. Boudin won the election on a platform of doing exactly what he has done; there’s no scandal here. 
The backers are also part of a local movement backed by Big Tech and real estate that is trying to control the direction of local politics – these days, with little success. 
Many of the people involved were strong supporters of Boudin’s opponents. 
Like Trump supporters, they don’t seem to want to accept the outcome of an election.

If this one gets to the ballot -- and with enough money to pay signature gatherers they probably can make it, I know I'm voting to retain Chesa Boudin.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

U.S. religious landscape 2021: among the insurrectionists

Michelle Boorstein, the experienced religion reporter of the Washington Post, has surveyed sociologists of religion about what can be discerned from the peculiar beliefs and passions of the some 500 charged participants in the January 6 attack on Congress. These people are into some pretty wacky stuff -- and some very American religiosity.

For many, their religious beliefs were not tied to any specific church or denomination — leaders of major denominations and megachurches, and even President Donald Trump’s faith advisers, were absent that day. For such people, their faith is individualistic, largely free of structures, rules or the approval of clergy. ...

... part of the mix, say experts on American religion, is the fact that the country is in a period when institutional religion is breaking apart, becoming more individualized and more disconnected from denominations, theological credentials and oversight. That has created room for what Yale University sociologist Phil Gorski calls a religious “melee, a free for all.”

...  Even before Jan. 6, some sociologists said the fastest-growing group of American Christians are those associated with independent “prophets” who largely operate outside denominationalism. 

Less than half of Americans told Gallup in March that they belonged to a congregation, the first time that has happened since Gallup started asking in the 1930s.

... what researchers studying Jan. 6 find remarkable are the leaderless, idiosyncratic expressions of religion that day. Among them are those of [Pauline] Bauer, who wrote to a judge last month that she’s a “free living soul” and an “ambassador of Christ,” and of Jake Chansley, the “QAnon Shaman” who prayed to Christ at a dais in the Senate and calls himself a “multidimensional being.” ..

... “You have people who have these idiosyncratic relationships with God — you’re sort of taking off on your own,” [Paul] Froese [a sociologist at Baylor University] told The Post. “You can say, ‘God told me whatever.’”

... Such individuals “tend to have a thin knowledge and understanding of their religion,” [Robert] Pape, [a University of Chicago political scientist also known for studying suicide bombers] said. “Recruits tend to be making individual decisions about the ideologies they want to follow and even what it means. It’s very much at the level of the individual.”

Boorstein profiles three characters from the insurrection, concluding with Jenna Ryan's post insurrection tweet:

#EndTimes: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
It's enough to make a person think Marx was right: some significant fraction of the U.S. citizenry are high as a kite. Right-wing "news" feeds their fears; fantasy obsessions drive their actions. And they are all on their own, alone in an incomprehensible landscape which can mean anything they can make it mean.

How many of us are they? Fifteen percent perhaps. The rest of us have a big job.

This post is a coda to my religious landscape series.

U.S. religious landscape 2021:
What is sacred?
Evangelical Christians: but how can they?  
Roman Catholics in sunlight
White Christian insurrectionists and fellow travelers
A coming out for liberal religion

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Revising history

I'm reading a lot of history these days: two dueling interpretations of the American colonies' revolt against the Brits. The fruit of this, if any, won't turn up for awhile. Both books are more than 20 audio hours long. It's my idea of a pleasurable project.

Oddment on the pediment of a San Francisco school

Meanwhile, here's Jelani Cobb explaining what history is for. Emphasis mine:

A growing body of progressive white scholars and scholars of color have spent the past several decades fighting for, and largely succeeding in creating, a more honest chronicle of the American past. But these battles and the changes they’ve achieved have, by and large, gone unnoticed by the lay public until benchmark anniversaries occurred, and the scholarship collided with a public unsettled by how distinct that version of history was from the anodyne tales they imbibed in school. Claims of “revisionist history” greeted each of these moments, but this, too, missed the point.

History exists in a constant state of revision, as we learn more about the present and the worlds that preceded it. This is why contemporary books about Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Harry S. Truman take a different, and far more laudatory, view of their subjects than do books written closer to their lifetimes. Revising history is the whole point of having historians. ...

 The nation needs historians, even if some who'd like to enshrine their understanding of the past in amber don't much like them.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Friendship meets anti-fascism

The Washington Post has furnished my iconic mental image of a young Republican here: white, male, self-satisfied, smug, aggressively impervious to contradiction or perhaps even information -- at least that's the visual impression he makes on me. All those judgments could be wrong, though the article which explains this guy jumped into lawyering for Trump's Big Lie, suggests perhaps not. I see a repulsive self-presentation, of which I suspect he's proud.

I bring this up, because I read with interest another Post article describing an American Enterprise Institute (AEI)  study about who we tend to include in our friendship circles: 

Just over half, 53 percent of Republicans said they have at least some friends who are Democrats, AEI found, while about a third of Democrats (32 percent) said they have at least some Republican friends.

The simplest explanation of this finding is the easiest to understand. There are simply more people who lean Democratic (53 percent of us) than lean Republican. And we tend to live in proximity to each other in cities and dense suburbs, so it's more common for us to be surrounded by our own kind. 

That goes double for historically disfavored groups who look first to their own kind for self-protection: Black people aren't going to know a lot of Republicans, including Black ones, though there are some. Just not a lot. 

Something similar goes for queer people: we may not be thrilled with Democrats, but we sure aren't about to hang with people who think we belong back in the closet. This is certainly why any right leaning people fell out of my friendship circle decades ago.

Another AEI finding: 

... Liberal women were the most likely to cut ties: A third said they stopped being friends with someone because of their politics.

It's easy to overlook, but progressive women, even white ones, can feel vitally endangered by Republican patriarchal postures. The current Supreme Court looks to make Republican rule even more salient, and repulsive, for many women.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has published a fascinating conversation with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman who has bucked his party, voting for impeachment and a serious investigation of the January 6 insurrection. Take the time to read it; it restores some faith in the notion of political thoughtfulness. I can't imagine voting for the guy (he's a conservative) but I can listen to him. He has a  suggestion for how to overcome uncomfortable political polarization:

If you’re on the right and don’t have a friend from the left, go make one. And if you’re on the left and don’t have a friend from the right, go make one. Talk about your fears. Everybody’s fear is the same: There will be no place for me in this country. If a liberal hears a conservative say, “No, we do want you here,” and a conservative hears a liberal say, “You may be a crazy conservative, but I still want you here” — that’s how you start to build trust.

... internal division is actually the thing that I fear the most right now. I jokingly say — but I’m not really joking — if China nuked California, a lot of Republicans would be like, “Good, we can win.” And if they nuked Texas, there might be a lot on the left saying, “Good, we can win.” I say that facetiously, but that’s how it feels at moments, and that’s a big concern.

I plead guilty to being willing to do without Texas -- except I have a lot of Democratic friends there. (Let's win it, instead of nuking it!) I don't think I can say to a crazy conservative who wants to disappear me, that I want him around. I think I can still say "I want you to be free to yell your crap." though I don't feel any obligation to listen. And no obligation at all to allow him to use any privilege he has to step on anyone.

My wise friend, Scot Nakagawa, a longtime organizer against the right in the Pacific Northwest, had a suggestion for those of us who want to combat the country's popular authoritarian lurch. I think he's onto something:

[Among] ways to gain greater leverage [there is] one that just about everyone can do: it to join something. Join a church, a neighborhood group, club, professional association, or whatever else moves you. Join real life and not just virtual groups because that’s where the real leverage lies, and join things you fit into well, where you are a native, so to speak, so you can experience safety and exercise influence.

If we can, we mustn't silo. We need to be inside "normie" institutions when we can survive them.That's part of the way forward.