Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Last U.S. plane flies away ...

It seems only right that we should get our news report of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan by way of a Pakistani English language channel, broadcasting from Kabul. Celebratory gunfire can be heard behind the reporter.

I'm glad the U.S. occupation -- that insult to Afghan humanity and sovereignty -- is over. I can say I never thought this was a right war; as I've argued many times, the right response to the attacks of 9/11 was to apprehend the intellectual authors of the crime and turn them over to the International Criminal Court. But empires don't do that ... instead we tried to remake the world according to U.S. druthers.

When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, only Congresswoman Barbara Lee and about 7 percent of us objected. But by 2004, many had forgotten the U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan -- and stopped much caring so long as we didn't have family members serving there. Obama used disgust with the Iraq war to get elected in 2008 -- and boxed himself in to be run over by eager generals because he had labeled Afghanistan, in contrast to Iraq, "the good war." Nothing came of that except more dead people, mostly Afghans.

Foreign policy establishment war hawks, FoxNews personalities, and most Republicans have crawled out of their hidey holes to bash Biden for ending this moral and military abomination. Aside from some security wonks, they'd be cheering if their guy had done the deed -- if you think our exit was a mess, think what Trump would have made of it.

Against the media grain, there has lately been a great deal of interesting punditry arising from the U.S. imperial disasters in Afghanistan and beyond. Ezra Klein, who like most up-and-coming journalists of his generation once thought well of the Afghanistan adventure, is reflective. The best of this cohort have learned ...

“Look at the countries in which the war on terror has been waged,” Ben Rhodes, who served as a top foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, told me. “Afghanistan. Iraq. Yemen. Somalia. Libya. Every one of those countries is worse off today in some fashion. The evidentiary basis for the idea that American military intervention leads inexorably to improved material circumstances is simply not there.” 
... This is the deep lacuna in America’s foreign policy conversation: The American foreign policy establishment obsesses over the harms caused by our absence or withdrawal. But there’s no similar culpability for the harms we commit or that our presence creates. We are much quicker to blame ourselves for what we don’t do than what we do. 
My heart breaks for the suffering we will leave behind in Afghanistan. But we do not know how to fix Afghanistan. We failed in that effort so completely that we ended up strengthening the Taliban. We should do all we can to bring American citizens and allies home. But if we truly care about educating girls worldwide, we know how to build schools and finance education. If we truly care about protecting those who fear tyranny, we know how to issue visas and admit refugees. If we truly care about the suffering of others, there is so much we could do. 
Only 1 percent of the residents of poor countries are vaccinated against the coronavirus. We could change that. More than 400,000 people die from malaria each year. We could change that, too.

Paul Waldman pleads for historical perspective. Broadly speaking, U.S. citizens are blithely oblivious to the harm we inflict on other peoples. We are mostly ignorant of war's horrors, unless we or our families have recently escaped one.

But millions of us think that we’ve really helped the people of Cuba, and if we just keep that embargo on for another few decades everything will work out. They think that Iraqis and Afghans appreciate all we’ve done for them. They think that anywhere there’s a dictatorship, people are saying, “What we need is an American invasion.” They think that if a drone strike killed their child, they’d say, “That was regrettable, but they were trying to do the right thing.” 
In many ways, we’re still in thrall to the (simplified) story of World War II, that we saved the world and helped it rebuild. But that war ended 76 years ago, and what has happened since shouldn’t give us any faith that tomorrow we can repeat what we did in 1945. The sooner we come to terms with that, the better off we — and the rest of the world — will be. 

David Rothkopf, a former Clinton-era official gone rogue on the foreign policy front, has been taking a lot of heat for arguing against the consensus that Afghanistan is a policy disaster.

Biden Deserves Credit, Not Blame, for Afghanistan
If anything, Americans should feel proud of what the U.S. government and military have accomplished in these past two weeks. President Biden deserves credit, not blame. Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement. 

... The very last chapter of America’s benighted stay in Afghanistan should be seen as one of accomplishment on the part of the military and its civilian leadership. Once again the courage and unique capabilities of the U.S. armed services have been made clear.  And, in a stark change from recent years, an American leader has done the hard thing, the right thing: set aside politics and put both America’s interests and values first.

I will continue to chalk Afghanistan up on the positive side of Joe Biden's ledger.

Monday, August 30, 2021

School is in session

And a small band of parents (?), neighborhood activists (?), students enjoying the diversion (?) marched around Horace Mann-Buena Vista this morning, chanting for safe schools and demanding the powers-that-be listen to the people. 

San Francisco is returning to its raucous norms post-pandemic. (Let's hope we're really post-pandemic.)

UPDATE: Mission Local has the story. These are the teachers protesting the physical conditions of the building, including gas leaks and dangerous electrical outlets. Not so funny.

Listen to a former restaurant worker who is not going back

I can walk up and down San Francisco's hip Valencia Street and see the signs. Some former restaurants are never going to reopen. But among among the majority which have returned, every other one seems to display a sign: "need cook" or just "hiring." 

This is San Francisco -- the work may be drudgery, but it's better than many cities, almost certainly paying minimum wage with some benefits. But this is not enough; it's not just the money. But like most everywhere, these businesses are not finding enough takers to fill the available slots.

Here's Lori Fox, a Canadian former server, who explains why she's not going back after a pandemic pause that ended 15 years in restaurant jobs.

Let’s be clear, then. It’s not that we don’t want to work – it’s just that we don’t want to work a physically demanding job in substandard conditions without benefits for minimum wage. And we especially don’t want to do that during the rising fourth wave of a pandemic. A study published earlier this year found the risk of death during the pandemic increased 40 per cent for food and agricultural workers in California. 
Some of your “missing” workers are not missing. They’re dead. 
You’ll have to excuse us if we’re not chomping at the bit to get back to bringing you your dinner. 
... Like I said, it’s not that we don’t want to work. It’s just that we don’t want to work for you. 
We want to serve ourselves.

Probably most restaurant workers won't be able to make a transition to other jobs -- but a heck of a lot are trying to. Involuntary time off gave a lot of people a chance to think about what they value in life, and it wasn't busing our dishes while being yelled at.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

COVID surge among the blue

Across the country, an awful lot of cops refuse to get vaccinated -- and it's no surprise that an awful lot of ordinary citizens feel this calls into question the officers' devotion to the mission to "protect and serve."

If they won't protect themselves and their families, they certainly aren't there for people they involuntarily interact with.

According to the August 26 LA Times

There were 84 new coronavirus cases identified among LAPD personnel in the last week, an increase from 45 the week prior, according to police. The new total includes a “hot spot” of 26 new infections among employees at the LAPD’s Central Station in skid row — where officials were scrambling to isolate the outbreak. 
... Nearly 3,000 LAPD employees have been infected by the virus, and 10 employees and three employees’ spouses have died from COVID-19. 
“If we had lost 10 officers in the line of duty in this last year to gun violence, it would be devastating,” [Chief Michel] Moore told the Police Commission on Tuesday. “It is no less devastating losing 10 members of this organization to this virus.”

You bet they'd be yelling for the heads of the perps if the dead officers had been shot in the line of duty.

In New York City, only 48 percent of NYPD employees were vaccinated as of last week. TIME interviewed some who were avoiding the shots:

... one Brooklyn-based traffic enforcement agent tells TIME they have no immediate intentions of getting the vaccine: “I just don’t feel like I need it yet. I spend most of my time outside and I wear a mask,” the traffic officer says. “For me, it’s about having the choice to take it—and I just don’t want to take it yet.”

A 911 operator says they too don’t want to get vaccinated, and they don’t like the idea of being required to do so either. “[I think] people don’t want to feel obliged or forced to get the vaccine,” the operator says. “It’s not like I’m constantly in someone else’s personal space. I social distance and wear a mask. Why do I need to get vaccinated right now?”

... And last week was a particularly grim week for the NYPD as three members of the department died from COVID-19. (60 NYPD employees have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.)

If seeing their fellow officers fall to this disease doesn't get across the urgency of getting vaxxed, it's hard to see what will -- except threatening their employment.

Both the traffic cop and the 911 operator say that, if it comes down to them losing their job, then they would get their shots.

“If it’s between my job and the vaccine then I would get it. I would try to fight it but, eventually, I would get it,” the 911 operator says.

Adam Serwer, writing in the Atlantic, has no sympathy for recalcitrant cops.

Vaccination is not a “personal decision,” because eschewing vaccination puts others at risk. ... If officers want to sacrifice their salary and pension because they’d rather indulge their politics than take a basic measure—one that 200 million other Americans have already taken—to protect the public they are sworn to serve, they should find a different line of work.

The pandemic has not yet taught us that we're all in this together. Are we a society capable of learning that kindergarten lesson?

Friday, August 27, 2021

GOPers gone psychopathic

All I can think of to say in response to this situation is that Republican partisans are some sick puppies.

By way of Heather Cox Richardson:

In Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis has forbidden mask or vaccine mandates, 21,000 people a day are being diagnosed with coronavirus—more than twice the rate of the rest of the  country—and almost 230 a day are dying, a rate triple that of the rest of the country. Right now, Florida alone accounts for one fifth of national deaths from Covid.

Ten major hospitals in Florida are out of space in their morgues and have rented coolers for their dead; those, too, are almost full. Intensive care units in the state are 94% occupied. Sixty-eight hospitals warned yesterday that they had fewer than 48 hours left of the oxygen their Covid patients need, a reflection of the fact that 17,000 people are currently hospitalized in the state. 

Appearing on the Fox News Channel last night, DeSantis blamed Biden for the crisis. “He said he was going to end Covid,” DeSantis said. “He hasn’t done that.”

I don't usually want to participate in firing up the outrage volume. But some actions -- and inactions -- really are deserving of outrage. I have close friends who are involuntarily in Florida right now, caring for a sick relative. This brings the villainy of Ron DeSantis' campaign to attract the MAGA base awfully close to home. What's got into these people?

Friday cat blogging

Many cats enjoying the sun on a window sill won't give a passerby a look. But some respond to attention with a feline hairy eyeball.
I know, I know. The cat thinks I'm the one who is aggressing. But maybe there's a hint of curiosity there?

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Clashes of values

A few weeks ago, I posted about struggles within organized labor about whether unions could support vaccine mandates by employers aiming to compel members to get their shots. 

Now that the Federal Drug Administration has fully approved the Pfizer shot, we're seeing headlines like this: 

Kind of puts the party of unrestricted business liberty for the rich in a bind, if big companies start demanding proof of inoculation from their workers, while the FoxNews-base howls about tyranny.
Today the national leader of the American Federation of Teachers explained to the Times' Kara Swisher how her union came around to working with school authorities toward universal vaccination. 
Randi Weingarten
... we operate as a democracy. If you believe that our job is to help make sure that schools are safe, which I believe it is, for our kids and for teachers and the rest of the education community, and you know that vaccines are the single most important way to do it, we got to a resolution, passed unanimously by our leadership, that said that we’ll work with employers, not oppose employers, on their vaccine requirements, including mandates. And what’s happened thus far is that that’s what everybody has done. You see California did it on a statewide basis. New Jersey is doing it on a statewide basis. New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago are doing it on local bases. Some of the vaccine policies have become vaccinate or test. Some of the vaccine policies are full vaccination with the exemptions of medical or religious, but at the same time, I get emails frequently from people who have told me that they will drop the membership if we endorse vaccine mandates. ...

Kara Swisher
Should teachers be required to approve [accept?] a vaccination if required? 
Randi Weingarten
There’s always this issue about privacy. Yes, I think that we should. I think that this is a community responsibility. And I think that the issue about distrust of the government authorities runs so deeply that there’s always this pushback. If I could do anything, if I had a magic wand, and I could do anything in life, it would be to try to recreate the trust in public schooling, the trust in government doing the right thing. I think the level of distrust and a sense of — this libertarian sense of freedom as opposed to the community social contract — the first class I ever taught when I taught as a school teacher at Clara Barton High School in New York City was about the Lockean social contract and that in a democracy, you give up some rights in order to make sure that you create community and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

My emphasis added.

Unions aren't perfect. Far from it. But they are a kind of democracy, far more so than most workplaces. And their survival and the well-being of their membership depends on collective solidarity -- a healthy value in a pandemic and a democracy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Parents need help

Feminist writer Jessica Valenti highlights the state of anxious confusion that the welcomed start of the school year has brought to people with children too young to be vaccinated.

Parents I know are scrambling to find pediatricians who might give their not-yet-12 year-old the Covid vaccine off-label, now that it’s FDA approved. Others are simply lying to their local CVS about their kid’s age, desperate to see them protected before they walk into a building with hundreds of other students. I don’t blame them, not even a little. 

I’m doing my own ethical dance, trying to sort out what I can do to shield my once severely ill daughter from a virus that we still know so little about—one that is killing children and leaving others with baffling long-term neurological symptoms.

And this is not just about physical health. Parents have seen the mental and emotional toll the pandemic has already taken on our children—quarantine, of course, but also the learning behind plexiglass desk dividers, and the lack of everyday things like sleepovers or stress-free playdates.

The way kids interact with the world around them has completely changed. It’s a loss that’s impossible to measure.

Her sense of being out on her own coping with an affliction which is invisible to people without kids reminds me of the searing insight the filmmaker Vito Russo gave us about living with HIV in the days when that meant only stigma and approaching death.

Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches.

It's awful to realize that's where many parents find themselves this autumn.

The general obliviousness of childless adults to the struggles of many parents has distressing policy implications. One of the great successes of the early Biden administration has been the monthly $300 federal child tax credit which is drastically reducing poverty for millions. Yes, having children equates with poverty for too many households. We say we value kids -- finally we're helping as a society to pay for them.

But the legislative sausage making which helped enact the $300 payments made the payments a short term effort, extending only to the end of the year. Democrats hope to extend the program in their big budget bill. But this turns out to be a hard sell.

... the public is not yet in sync with Democratic leaders. In a mid-July Morning Consult poll, only 35 percent of voters said the expansion should “definitely” or “probably” be made permanent, with 52 percent saying the opposite. A YouGov poll from around the same time found only 30 percent of voters favored permanent expansion; 46 percent opposed it.

... The perplexing question is: why aren’t the checks themselves breaking through the partisan divide? Why isn’t the credit selling itself?

1. Not everyone gets the checks. About 39 million households are receiving the checks. But America has about 121 million households. ...

2. Even people who get checks believe that other people shouldn’t. ... [Reagan and the GOPers taught us well to sniff around for welfare bums, you know.]

3. The expanded child tax credit was slipped quietly into a crisis package—perhaps too quietly ...

4. Voters support crisis help more than permanent help. 

... Many Democrats saw opportunity in crisis: Seize the pandemic moment, send out near-universal and unconditional checks, and demonstrate that’s the most direct way to eradicate poverty.

But unpleasant though it is to consider, most voters may not aspire to slashing poverty as much as progressive Democrats do, and therefore may not want to spend huge amounts of money to that end.

I'm prepared to believe that a universal child tax credit is probably the simplest means to reduce poverty in our country. We're rich enough to make that choice. Let's hope Dems can push this through  during the legislative battles that will dominate the fall in Congress.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The rupture exists ...

Arundhati Roy speaks for and to me here.

The rupture is real: fire, flood, starvation, pestilence.

The rupture is real: who are these people, my sister and brother citizens who think you can have a country where only your own desires matter, who do not seem to comprehend an obligation to nurture the whole?

The rupture is real: I lurch perforce into a new season, a different season of aging. I can no longer hold awareness of the way of all flesh at bay. That's okay; it has to be. 

Let us strive to walk through what portals open, consciously and bravely and together as we can.

Thanks to a good friend for sending this graphic of possibility my way.

Monday, August 23, 2021

It's for real ...

At a neighborhood taqueria
San Francisco has become the first major city in the United States to require proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 for a variety of high-risk indoor activities that involve eating, drinking or exercising.

Can't imagine this will be strongly enforced. But a coffee shop proprietor I talked with today welcomed it vigorously. "We can't close down again. We've got to get this over. If they want to give me a booster shot every month, just show me where to line up ..."

From the 'hood: saving lives

I have no idea whether this is a functioning service, but it seems like a good idea. These posters have turned up on local walls.

Narcan, the commonly recognized brand name for the drug Naloxone, is a drug that rapidly reverses an opioid reaction. 

Thanks to a state law, Californians can purchase naloxone directly from a participating local pharmacist. A statewide standing order permits community organizations to dispense naloxone to a person at risk or in a position to assist a person at risk without a prescription.

Drug users survive thanks to rapidly administered Narcan shots.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Oblivious or sociopathic? Or something else?

It's getting angry out here. Those of us who are vaccinated are losing patience with folks who could get their coronavirus shots -- and don't. We've had a couple rounds in our extended family; stubborn vaccine refusals almost derailed a family gathering planned for a year in one case -- and in another instance interfered with end-of-life care arrangements for a friend.

This is not hypothetical -- I vacillate between being rendered speechless that people I know should be so unconscious of any obligation to the communities in which they live -- and convinced I'm encountering individual sociopathy.

Paul Krugman, the caustic economist, lays out my feelings exactly.
To say what should be obvious, getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public spaces aren’t “personal choices.” When you reject your shots or refuse to mask up, you’re increasing my risk of catching a potentially deadly or disabling disease, and also helping to perpetuate the social and economic costs of the pandemic. In a very real sense, the irresponsible minority is depriving the rest of us of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 
Furthermore, to say something that should also be obvious, those claiming that their opposition to public health measures is about protecting “freedom” aren’t being honest.
Andy Slavitt is an experienced fixer. In 2013, when the Obamacare website rolled out and crashed, he came along and knocked things into shape. He ended up head of Medicare/Medicaid in the federal health bureaucracy and then served as an advisor to the Biden White House on COVID response.  Now he's trying to help all of us cool down. What follows is a lightly edited Twitter thread.
COVID Update: Anti-vaxxers on Twitter/Facebook are a whole different breed from people who haven’t been vaccinated in real life. ...

As with many things, people on these platforms who spew garbage are worth ignoring.

People who have concerns about being vaccinated are well worth listening to.

People with anti-vax messages on social media have more in common with people who spread political misinformation than they do with people who have real concerns about vaccines. ...

-They use “it makes you think” type logic. (“Nine people in the hospital with tremors. Makes you think”)

-Because the mission is only to plant doubt among people already unsure or who have questions, they aim to “just clear the bar” so they avoid radical sounding claims

-They tap into pre-existing beliefs about government tyranny & pharma profits to suggest motives

... These are the exact same techniques used pre- and post-election. It’s a playbook of manipulation, not people who have serious doubts.

If you told me 90% of the major anti-vax messengers had all gotten safely vaccinated themselves, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

... Fortunately that behavior doesn’t represent the people who aren’t vaccinated. ...

People who aren’t vaccinated largely speaking fall into 2 categories:

-One, they have questions or concerns about the vaccine
-Two, they aren’t paying much attention or aren’t motivated one way or another

In category 1, many of these people are routinely vaccinated & vaccinate their kids. Their questions are about the COVID vaccine.

Commonly— Long term side effects? Impact on fertility? Rushed process? Change your DNA? Cause COVID?

People who are vaccinated or unvaccinated cluster in communities. So they know people with the same questions. Many don’t have a regular doctor to ask questions to. Rumors spread easily.

Sometimes these are just low level concerns. They are in the “I’d rather not” category & when cases dropped this spring, any of these concerns exceeded the risk they felt from COVID.

With Delta, a number of them are rethinking. FDA approval next week will move even more.

It’s safe to say at a minimum this group— who skew non-college educated, skew white (& yes Republican)— doesn’t trust messages from the government. 
Local voices matter more— employers, doctors, clergy, small business. Many don’t trust the health care system, including many people of color & even nurses!

The other group generally speaking doesn’t see COVID as much of a threat.

Only 40% of those 18-25 have been vaccinated. Above 25, close to 3 in 4 have.  Much of this group say they would get vaccinated if required by school or jobs. Some who work hourly jobs don’t have easy enough access.

We should have all kinds of time to understand these groups & help them get their questions answered. Antagonizing or shaming people isn’t a great way to treat people & it doesn’t abate the propaganda, it actually aids it.

It’s also important that while they’ve chosen to remain unvaccinated, we protect people who can’t be inoculated.

I’ve had to show my vax card or a negative test 3 times this week (in California) & if unvaxxed people aren’t thrilled, that’s OK.

About 25 million people say they would get vaxxed if work, school or venues required it. They are looking for the nudge to settle their uncertainty.

Others of course will strenuously object. A reasonable discourse on this question would be better than more social media fights.People are getting increasingly pushed into camps. Pro or anti— but that’s not how most people approach a complex question like this.

... But those who want to reduce the toll of the pandemic should ignore, not enable these trolls & try to get back to the things we do in real life like listening & talking to each other. /end

I'm still mad -- but Slavitt is right.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Need a little inspiration?

"It's in my heart to do what I need to do to help people" says Ms. Dorothy Oliver.

MSNBC explains:

Alabama has the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rate in the country, but thanks to a retired office administrator in one small town, the vaccination rate is 94%. Dorothy Oliver organized a pop-up vaccination clinic in Panola, Ala., and then went door-to-door to answer questions and get people signed up.


Friday, August 20, 2021

This is what efficiency looks like

I did the job. I voted NO on the recall. I mailed my ballot. Three days later, this. Bravo for BallotTrax. 

Quite the accomplishment it might seem to those of us who remember ballot box lids floating in the Bay ...

Friday cat blogging

She's got a water bowl. She's got her own fountain. She even tries the toilet sometimes. But Janeway prefers to drink from our water glass on the bathroom sink.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Afghanistan: for those for whom it is not over

No doubts here: Joe Biden was to right to take the political hit (if any) for ending our Afghanistan war. The major media have been giving lots of space to tired old war horses like Condoleeza Rice and Leon Panetta to whine -- but most people in the U.S. are done with this.

Of course Afghanistan's war is not over for many Afghans. The bracing Vietnamese-American essayist and novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen brings his life experience to this moment:
I was 4 years old when Saigon fell, so I do not remember any of it. I count myself lucky, since many Vietnamese who survived the end of that war were greatly traumatized by it. ... For [many Afghan] civilians, the war hasn’t ended, and won’t end for many years. ... 
... History is happening again, and again as tragedy and farce. The wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan happened as a result of American hubris, and in both cases Americans mostly focused on the political costs of war for them. But in each case, the Vietnamese (and Laotians, Cambodians and Hmong) and then the Afghans have paid the much greater toll in human suffering. In April 1975, the United States recognized its moral responsibility and evacuated about 130,000 Vietnamese people, and then accepted hundreds of thousands more from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in subsequent decades. This is what must happen now, and anything short of such a vision of responsibility and hospitality will compound the American failure in Afghanistan. 
... Tens of thousands of Afghans believed in the American promise of ushering in freedom, democracy and an open, tolerant society. And now, they’re stuck. For Afghans, the war hasn’t ended simply because we, the United States, declared it to be over. The nightmare doesn’t end for Afghans after the last American leaves. Our obligation to help Afghans in mortal danger extends beyond the present moment and well into the years ahead. ...
A friend, who also escaped from Vietnam in 1975, watches and feels impotent pain:
What is happening in Afghanistan resonates with me deeply. 1975 - that was when I left Saigon amid chaotic scenes at the airport, when my British father had minutes to get us out, keys left in the car on the airport tarmac... I was a mere baby at the time, but I do not underestimate the impact this whole scene is [having] "again". It saddens me a lot to see this. ... What happens now in Afghanistan is anyone's guess. I am saddened by the situation, for the Afghan people, for the women. They have been abandoned.
San Francisco-based Afghan-American writer Tamim Ansary has written several books trying to explain his country of origin to his adopted one. In 2014 he offered this in Games without Rules describing what he considers the Afghan predicament:
... the country experienced a series of incursions emanating out of Europe, which gave rise to a maelstrom of conflicting currents. Within the country, the multitudes whose cohesion derived only from traditional tribal and Islamic values expected their rulers to honor and defend those values with their lives and to otherwise leave them alone. Afghan rulers could not simply comply, however, for looking outward they always saw two or more well-equipped Western goliaths facing off against each other, with hapless Afghanistan situated between them on their line of scrimmage. ... 
Trying to negotiate between the local and global forces, between the inner and outer worlds, put Afghan rulers in a double bind. Anyone who wanted to rule this country had to secure the sponsorship of the strongest foreigners impinging on the country at that moment; yet no Afghan could rule this country for long without the allegiance of the country's deepest traditional forces. … The same thing is happening again now. ...
Internal contradictions fester and lead to a
... burgeoning chaos that saps [the invaders'] resources, leaving little time or strength for carrying out the original intentions of the intervention, whatever those were. The problem is not that Afghans unite and then cannot be conquered; the problem is that Afghans fragment and then cannot be governed. The great powers have a stake in making Afghanistan more governable, but the only people who can achieve this happy result are Afghans -- because it depends on the resolution of contradictions within Afghan culture.
Ansary concludes:
Afghanistan is not really impossible to conquer. It's just that all the successful conquerors are now called "Afghans."
• • •
Today I find myself feeling slightly at sea, unmoored. No wonder. I've realized that I've been agitating, organizing, demonstrating, and praying for the end of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan for more than a quarter of my life.   I don't remember feeling quite this way in April 1975 when we were chased out of Southeast Asia; at that time I'd been a semi-adult skeptic and then opponent of the Vietnam war for ten years. Its duration had seemed forever, but I was young and soon found other demons to joust with.

As it happens, I'm reading about the fall of Saigon in Elizabeth Becker's You Don't Belong Here about three women journalists who broke into war reporting in the U.S. Indochina wars. It's a heck of a companion story to the current moment. It takes me back into that other war which formed the shameful backdrop of my youth.
• • •
If people in this country want to help the Afghans whose war is not over, I urge support for the International Rescue Committee which has worked in the country for 30 hard years.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Fire season

San Francisco, 7pm, Wednesday, August 18. This is not what we expect the setting sun to look like. Though air quality doesn't seem bad, I assume this results from smoky air.

Timely history

Kathleen Belew, whose bio at the University of Chicago charmingly describes her as a "historian of the present," provides a window into the obscure byways of some U.S. rightwing violent extremists in Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. She's adopted some explicit definitions of her subject, which many writers have only murkily defined. She rejects such labels as "radical right" in favor of using
the term 'white power' to refer to the social movement that brought together members of the Klan, militias, radical tax resisters, white separatists, neo-Nazis, and proponents of white theologies, such as Christian Identity, Odinism, and Dualism between 1975 and 1995.
I've no quarrel with that. She's nailed these people. In the aftermath of the January 6 Trump coup attempt, knowledge of their origins becomes ever more significant.

Belew dates the beginning of this iteration of U.S. right wing violence to the concurrence of U.S. failure in Vietnam with the cultural upheaval of the 1960s which left some white men frustrated and more than a little lost.  
As narrated by white power proponents, the Vietnam War was a story of constant danger, gore, and horror. It was also a story of soldiers' betrayal by military and political leaders and of the trivialization of their sacrifice.

Returned conscripts who felt burned by a bad war and hippies at home were easy pickings for recruitment to violent right wing extremism. It wasn't hard for them to believe they were still righteously fighting communism, whether as American Nazis and KKK members shooting up Communist Worker Party demonstrators in Greensboro NC in 1979 or as mercenaries in US covert wars in Central America in the 1980's.

Although these men called themselves "patriots," a decade after Vietnam they came to see themselves as "at war" with the U.S. government. (They were mostly toxically masculine men though Belew tries hard to insert some reference to the women who attached to them.) They hoped the election of Ronald Reagan would restore the sort of white country they sought, but he disappointed them.

White power activists responded to Reagan's first term with calls for a more extreme course of action.
From here on out, these loosely networked terrorists saw themselves as operating underground as a "leaderless resistance" performing occasional spectacular assaults on enemies such as the assassination of Jewish talk show host Alan Berg. They funded themselves with bank robberies and retreated to rural compounds in white areas such as Idaho. From these developments came the U.S. government's lethal effort to arrest one adherent, Randy Weaver. Their image of the government as implacable foe was only strengthened by murderous siege of the Waco Branch Davidian cult compound. The white power movement was an early adopter of the emerging web, creating by the mid-1990s connections that escaped the expectations of authorities.

Rejection of the legitimacy of U.S. government by this movement reached a peak according to Belew with some 5 million members and sympathizers. Out of this milieu came the Oklahoma City federal building bombing of April 19, 1995 which killed some 168 people, injured at least 680 others, and before 9/11 was the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

Belew's account left me with the question: did right wing extremist violence recede after Oklahoma City? And if so, why? As far as I can discern from this book, Belew is arguing we stopped looking for it, it hibernated underground, and perhaps can be said to have had a resurgence from similar roots when pulled into view by the honest foul racism of Donald Trump.
White power should have been legible as a coherent social movement but was instead largely narrated and prosecuted as scattered actions and inexplicable lone wolf attacks motivated not by ideology, but by madness or personal animus. It might have been treated as a wide-ranging social network with the capacity to inflict mass casualties, but was often brushed off as backwardness or ineptitude. It should have been acknowledged as producing, supporting, and deploying a coherent worldview that posed radical challenges to a liberal consensus around racial and gender equality and support of institutions including the vote, courts, the rule of law, and federal legislation. Instead, the disappearance  of the movement in the years after Oklahoma City -- engineered by white power activists but permitted and furthered by government actors, prosecutorial strategies, scholars, and journalists alike -- left open the possibility of new waves of action.
Well maybe. But from my vantage point, plenty of organizations have been digging into this nasty swamp of hate during my entire conscious political life. There's the Anti-Defamation League, Political Research Associates, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Western States Center and many more. Brave researchers including Sara Diamond, David Neiwert and Vegas Tenold have been on the job. Belew has organized the same knowledge and added recently available FBI documentation to provide a solid overview of one period of the terrorist right.

I find one of her conclusions poignant as we watch the U.S. Afghanistan adventure stumble to its terrible conclusion.
The story of white power as a social movement exposes something broader about the enduring impact of state violence in America. It reveals one catastrophic ricochet of the Vietnam War, in the form of its paramilitary aftermath. It also reveals something important about the war itself. War is not neatly confined in the space and time legitimated by the state. It reverberates in other terrains and last long past armistice. It comes home in ways bloody and unexpected.

May war's residue of brokenness not come home yet again ...

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The education con game

Erudite Partner has taken on the scam which is so much of U.S. higher education. 

I left school owing $800, or about $4,400 in today's dollars. These days, most financial "aid" resembles foreign "aid" to developing countries—that is, it generally takes the form of loans whose interest piles up so fast that it's hard to keep up with it, let alone begin to pay off the principal in your post-college life. Some numbers to contemplate: 62% of those graduating with a BA in 2019 did so owing money—owing, in fact, an average of almost $29,000. The average debt of those earning a graduate degree was an even more staggering $71,000. That, of course, is on top of whatever the former students had already shelled out while in school. And that, in turn, is before the "miracle" of compound interest takes hold and that debt starts to grow like a rogue zucchini.

There's much more, especially explaining the strange trajectories of people whose expensive PhD's only qualify them to become poorly paid "adjunct" college teachers, shepherding masses of students through an education of dubious value. Read all about it.

Yet she doesn't give up on the idea of humane learning -- nor can any of us. 

Photo is from 2012, but the demand to "Cancel the debt" remains.

Demographic shifting

This chart blows my mind. In the decade since 2010, Latinx people in California apparently have undergone a major shift in how they choose to describe their ethic/racial identities according to the new census report.

Click to enlarge.

In 2010, offered the choice to identify simply as ethnically Hispanic/white as to race, that was by far the majority choice.

In 2020, a substantial majority, which must include many of the same individuals, chose ethnically Hispanic plus some other racial identity to describe themselves. 

White alone is out; racially mixed is in.

I guess that's what you get when you have lived with a racist President who says the racist part out loud. And when his cranky, bigoted white Republican party is doing its best to preserve white power. 

In California, where a very diverse society has arrived and more or less works, why not claim multiple identities if you live them? In other places where it is more rare to be Brown, is there more pressure and social reason to emphasize the white option?

Have to wonder though, does this Browning identity impulse leave the majority of the Black population, which has historical roots in slavery, out of the (happier) mix? It could. Our history is not good on this. It's been the rule that immigrant groups become "real Americans" when they adopt white supremacist attitudes. 

I don't want to go there.

H/t to @UrbFuturistDem who tweeted this and Noah Smith who passed it on.

Monday, August 16, 2021

That's over -- for now

Joe Biden did the right thing in Afghanistan.

“I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”
This morning I got into it on an open thread and wrote this:

Afghanistan has been a shit show from day one. Now we're seeing some of it. We were wrong (practically, morally, and legally) to respond to 9/11 by failing to apply international criminal law to evil actors and thinking we had to use our hammer (the military).

Biden is having to carry the burden of making visible what has been implicit since 2002 at the latest. We had no business trying to remake that country. Ugly scenes -- but remember that the people of the US long ago gave up caring so long as their kids weren't among the casualties. 
Like Joe Biden, I'm sticking to my stance on this one. Since the beginning of this blog in 2005, I've probably written 50 posts about this aimless, fruitless campaign. I've reported on dozens of reporters' books. I've written about opium; I've written about women and education; and I've written about apparently boundless stupidity in Washington and a succession of military commands. This never worked and it was never going anywhere good.

Many more Afghans will suffer. Many already have. That reality comes as a physical injury to the Afghans and a moral injury to those of our forces who tried. 

But it's over.

Paul Waldman warns we can't be expected to have learned our lesson.

Just as before, there will be an effort to unlearn Afghanistan’s lessons so its mistakes can be repeated.

... We’re so convinced of our own benevolent intentions that we can’t wrap our heads around the idea that people in the rest of the world see us not as a force of altruism and liberation but as a global hegemon imposing its will and maintaining its control, so often indifferent to the death and dislocation it causes. They do not trust our motives, they do not share our confidence, and they often view our own history with a clearer eye than we do.

... One day — and it won’t be too long — another president will come along and tell us that morality and national security demand that we launch yet another invasion to add to our long list.

“By god,” he’ll say, “we’ve kicked the Afghanistan syndrome once and for all.”

The photo is from a protest in Pakistan in 2001.

Back to school in the 'hood

The pandemic first revealed itself in lines -- for grocery stores, city offices, even take out coffee ... Let's hope this line signals a beginning of a durable recovery.

Everyone who can, get vaxxed!

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Time to do what has to be done

Okay, Californians. Let's get this done.

You have received your ballot. Vote to brush back this attempt by aggrieved Republicans to hijack the Governor's office. ASAP. 

GOP crackpots can't elect anyone statewide in a normal election, so they have tried this gimmick. This recall is just about screwing with the majority of Californians.

You don't have to vote for anyone on the second ballot. So long as we all get out and say NO to the recall, that list of clowns doesn't matter. It's over when the current governor tops 50 percent NO on the recall. Obsessing over the clowns is wasted brain cells. Let 'em run in the real election in 2022 and lose with 40 percent then.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Janeway does like to boldly explore. So far, she's never found a high place she can't get down from. 

Afterward, often we get the semi-liquid, languid Janeway.

Blog will be on break for the next couple of days while I attend (by zoom) the annual El Porvenir board retreat.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

We're self-referential animals

There's a sort of silly trope -- which I am sure I've indulged in myself sometime -- which consists of saying that climate change means "WE HAVE TO SAVE THE PLANET." 

Nonsense. The planet will be fine as it heats up. Mitigating the consequences of carbon pollution is about preserving many, many contemporary species on the planet, most pertinently from our vantage point, the human one.

I thought about this when I glanced through

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

A tale of two American revolutions

This post is a simplistic exercise in historiography -- the study of how history describes the past. That there should be such a discipline eludes our right wing nincompoops who think history is one fixed, true story (and often one inerrant Bible) and should be taught as such. That's baloney.

For the purpose of thinking about the varieties of how historical narratives can be told, I'm looking at two huge, relatively recent, tomes about the American revolution.

Historian Gordon Wood's The Radicalism of the American Revolution came out in 1993 and received a Pulitzer prize. Wood's central insight is that the uprising of the colonists amounted to escape from an ancient monarchical hierarchy whose order was as natural as breathing to men of the time.
... mid-eighteenth-century colonial society was in many ways still traditional. ... The household, the society, and the state -- public and private spheres -- scarcely seemed separable. Authority and liberty flowed, not as today from the political organization of society, but from the structure of its personal relationships. ... Powerful social and economic developments were stretching, fraying, and forcing apart older personal bonds holding people together, and people everywhere were hard pressed to explain what was happening. New ideas, new values, were emerging in the English-speaking world, but the past was tenacious. 
... The hierarchy of a monarchical society was part of the natural order of things, part of the great chain of existence that ordered the entire universe ... Ideally, people were expected to find and attend to "the proper Business" of their particular place with the social order... "God hath in great wisdom," said the Reverend Thomas Craddock of Maryland at mid-century, "given varieties of ability to men, suitable to the several stations in life, for which he hath design'd them, that everyone keeping his station, and applying his respective abilities to his own work, all might receive advantage."
Wood's contention is that for various reasons which he describes at length, this was the social order that the American rebellion overturned. The book is the working out of just what drove many colonists to try to change the order of their own known universe and some of the implications for the new polity.

That's what you get if you read Woods and in my opinion he does the job magnificently with both nuance and depth. It's hard for us to imagine that the colonists' project -- to delegitimize a historic hierarchy to which we have trouble giving even momentary mental deference -- might have been a real revolution. But he's got a case.

What you don't get from Woods is what any of this meant to the despoiled Native population; to enslaved laborers, mostly African; to women; or even much to enterprising colonists who took off to settle the far side of the Appalachian mountains, leaving the staid, almost-British, thirteen original colonies behind. That's what you get from Pulitzer prize winning historian Alan Taylor.

American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 was published in 2016. I think it's fair to say that his project is to blast away the aura of romance and whiff of hagiography which has accreted around the U.S. founding.
... the struggle was our first civil war, rife with divisions, violence and destruction. The fiends of fire and darkness were busy during the revolution. 
... Only by the exceptionally destructive standards of other revolutions was the American more restrained. During the Revolutionary War, Americans killed one another over politics and massacred Indians, who returned the bloody favors. Patriots also kept one-fifth of Americans enslaved, and thousands of those slave escaped to help the British oppose the Revolution. After the war, 60,000 dispossessed Loyalists became refugees. The dislocated proportion of the American population exceeded that of the French in their revolution. The American revolutionary turmoil also inflicted an economic decline that lasted for fifteen years in a crisis unmatched until the Great Depression of the 1930s. During the revolution, Americans suffered more upheaval than any other American generation save that which experienced the Civil War of 1861 to 1865.
This awful parade of truths shape Taylor's narrative. It's full of land grabs, violence, greed, false promises, and cupidity -- all of which shaped the polity of the nation we became. There are lots of villains and very few heroes. This too is a convincing, magnificent narrative.

And there we are. Can both these stories be "true"? Sure they can be. How to teach both in a respectful, honest way is the terrible burden of responsible teachers of United States history.

• • •

Just for fun, I thought I'd share the two historians' contrasting treatment of my distant collateral forebear Samuel Adams (and no, there's no evidence he was ever a brewer, FWIW). This Adams, a cousin of the better known future president John Adams (also strictly collateral), was a Boston rabble-rouser who, from 1760 onward, incited the working masses to contest the power of the English king to tax colonists.

For Wood, the periodic eruptions of mob violence that Adams had a hand in were just a colonial enactment of British "Pope's Day" (Guy Fawkes) bacchanalia. Sure, some property might be destroyed but ...

... they indicated, said Samuel Adams, that the 'wheels of government' were 'somewhere clogged' ...
In Woods' view, Samuel Adams, for all his rabble rousing, was a figure of "classical republican virtue" on the pre-empire Roman model.
Adams was a Harvard-educated gentleman who literally devoted himself to the public. He was without interests or even private passions. "It would be the glory of this Age," he said, "to find Men having no ruling Passion but the Love of their Country." He had neither personal ambition nor the desire for wealth. In fact, he prided himself on being a "poor Man," and he lived in conspicuous poverty. So unconcerned was he with his personal appearance that his colleagues had to outfit him properly for his mission in 1774 to the Continental Congress. He did not even care about fame. He thought his letters were trifles and refused to keep copies of them. He despised everything that had to do with genealogy, and refused to have anything to do with patronage in any form, even among his own family. He left his son to make his own way in the world, saying that no one could expect any "advantage in point of Promotion from his Connections with men." No one took republican values as seriously as Adams did.
Sounds like a stand up guy, of a sort.

Taylor is not so sure. His Adams is a recognizable type of political figure.
... Adams possessed only moderate means but a fierce focus on his political goals. ... Adams was stocky and shabbily dressed. "I glory in being what the world calls a poor Man," Adams wrote. Secretive, patient, and cautious, he cultivated popularity as the basis for power. Instead of putting on airs, Adams carefully learned the names and views of shipwrights and other artisans. A leader in Boston's town meeting, Adams secured appointment as a local tax collector, where he became more popular by neglecting to collect from his neediest supporters. A political rival characterized Adams as "by no means remarkable for brilliant abilities," but "equal to most men in popular intrigue, and the management of a faction. He eats little, drinks little, sleeps little, thinks much, and is most decisive and indefatigable in pursuit of his objectives." Adams aptly described his political strategy as to "keep the attention of his fellow citizens awake to their grievances; and not to suffer them to be at rest, till the causes of their complaints are removed."
Taylor's Adams seems to have been a slightly disreputable political consultant. Wood's is more like a self-effacing patriot. In our time, it's easier to imagine the former than the latter. But how much of that is simply our jaded contemporary political cynicism overwhelming the hopeful imagination of  another time?

That's a puzzle presented by comparative historiography.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

What's killing cops?

Turns out our famously over-anxious pseudo-warriors are being felled by a virus, far more than by any other cause. Thanks to Kevin Drum for assembling the data. Click to enlarge.

Meanwhile they are prime candidates for crackpot vaccine resistance. 

And there are others. The Chron reports that among San Francisco's 35,000 employees, about 80 percent are vaccinated -- and some subset led by firefighters and jailers are fighting the city mandate with nonsense. City Hall has been hit with some 200 identical bullshit objections from recalcitrant workers.

“Almost all of the statements are either absurd, misleading, meaningless, and are written not to solicit any serious response but to be deliberately hostile for political purposes,” said Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley.

Whether cops -- who ought to know enough to get vaxxed for their own good -- or other city workers, we the people have a right to expect better from those who work for us. It's not about individuals -- it's about preserving and protecting the community.

Monday, August 09, 2021

It's getting hot out there

Still breathing? Want to increase your chances of surviving fire or flood or pestilence as the world warms?

Do something!

David Roberts (Grist, Vox, Volts substack) has long been my go-to guy on matters of climate. So I believe him when he says this is it for this decade on climate legislation insofar as what might come out of Washington. Once the Senate passes the bi-partisan physical infrastructure fig leaf, Dems will whack into shape the really big Biden agenda in a second bill which they plan to pass without Republican votes by "budget reconciliation" -- and that's where the climate stuff goes.

If things go well, the legislation will include a clean energy standard (CES) and clean energy tax credits, which together would revolutionize the US electricity system. If things don’t go well, there will be no substantial climate legislation for many years to come. 
... when it comes to decent climate policy, it’s all about the [50+Kamala votes] reconciliation bill. There won’t be another bill this big while Democrats control Congress, and they won’t control Congress for long. [2022 looks tough for Dems.] What Democrats are able to get through in the reconciliation bill is likely to be the last big federal climate legislation for a decade at least.
Everybody paying attention knows this. And so everybody will be trying to get their wish list into this bill. And a lot of it's great: extending the $300 monthly child payments, increasing the generosity and affordability of Obamacare, making the corporations pay their fair share.

But if we don't get real climate measures into this, we're well and truly screwed.

Find out more about what that means, what must be included in the bill, and who to call from this link.  

Passage of this package is our remaining shot for meaningful climate mitigation.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Leaders gotta lead on vaccines

Yet another reason to mourn the late AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka: he was a union leader who did not hesitate to encourage working people to get vaccinated.

Trumka was forthright to the end. On July 27, he was asked whether he supported a vaccine mandate. Many union leaders (including, surprisingly, the usually tough-minded Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers) have been hesitant to endorse such mandates, neglecting their responsibility to protect members’ health in deference to a few crank anti-vaxxers among the rank and file. Not Trumka. “Yes we do,” Trumka told C-SPAN. “If you come back in, and you’re not vaccinated, everybody in that workplace is jeopardized.”

Trumka managed be a voice for workers and to cooperate well with the broad Democratic Party coalition that elected Joe Biden, no easy task in an anti-labor environment. A part of Trumka's legacy is higher public enthusiasm for labor unions than we've seen in many years.

According to a Gallup poll, nearly 50 percent of nonunion workers told M.I.T. researchers that they would join a union if given the opportunity.

That's not going to hold up if union leaders decide their job is to stick up for the fraction of their members who are hesitant or refuseniks about COVID vaccination. I understand that labor leaders win their jobs via internal union elections and have to represent all their members -- but coddling vaccine holdouts forfeits respect from a public whose majority wants the people they interact with to join them in tamping down the coronavirus.

I'm not surprised that the unions which represent cops and jailers are some of the most resistant. San Francisco plans a vaccine requirement for city employees. According to the Chronicle

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department will see a wave of resignations if the city enforces its policy requiring vaccinations for its employees, according to the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the union representing sheriff’s deputies.

Mandated vaccines, “will result in law enforcement officers and fire fighters retiring early and seeking employment elsewhere,” the union wrote on its Facebook page Thursday. “Public safety of San Francisco has turned into the Wild West and will get worse when officers quit due to the vaccine mandate.”

... Union leaders with the city’s fire and police departments did not confirm whether their members were also considering resigning in light of the order, but both said they wished the city had engaged labor leaders at the front end of the process. About 17% of police and 9.5% of fire department employees were not vaccinated as of [August 6] 

It's hard not to feel that these militarized city employees too often act like entitled thugs instead of public servants. 

But it's not just the local cop unions. It's also far too many ordinary public employee and teacher unions.

... In Hawaii, where new daily reported cases rose 103 percent in the past week according to a Washington Post tracker, Gov. David Ige (D) on Thursday announced requirements for all state and county employees to disclose their vaccination status or take weekly tests. Employees who don’t comply could be fired.

As Hawaii reported 655 new coronavirus cases on Thursday — its highest daily total of the pandemic — a joint statement from six Hawaii public unions including firefighters, police and teachers said that although they strongly encourage vaccinations, the governor’s emergency proclamation would impact members’ working conditions.

Unions fight hard to win tolerable working conditions from a system in which too much human labor is valued only as profit for managers and bosses. And at this moment, they are a vital component of a fractious public trying to move beyond a deadly pandemic. Instead of standing up for their hold-outs, labor should be loudly proclaiming broad solidarity and promoting vaccination for all.

GREAT NEWS: on Sunday teacher's union leader Randi Weingarten came out for vaccine mandates in view of arrival of the Delta variant, That's solidarity.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Coming to terms with past evils

Susan Neiman is a U.S-born moral philosopher. Raised in Atlanta, she studied and taught at Yale, and from 1996-2000 she was associate professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv University where she took Israeli citizenship. In 2000 she became director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany. She has long lived in Berlin by choice, and wants her readers to know that she finds contemporary Germany a good place to be Jewish.

As I approached writing a post about Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil, I checked with a friend, a German-born immigrant-American residing in San Francisco. Had she heard of this book? She hadn't, but just laughed when I told her the title. In this she confirmed exactly the author's experience:
... nearly every German I know, from public intellectual to pop star, laughed out loud when they heard I was writing a book with this title. The exception was a former culture minister who didn't find it the least bit funny, raising his voice in a Berlin restaurant to tell me I should in no circumstances publish a book suggesting there was something to be learned from the Germans. Just as it's become axiomatic for decent Germans to insist that the Holocaust was the worst crime in human history, which should never be relativized by comparison with anything, it's become axiomatic that this insight was too slow in coming. German Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung was too little, too late, and above all incomplete ...
That's a long word, unlovely to an English-speaking auditor -- it means something like "coming to terms with (a guilty) past" and it's what the generation of Germans who came up after the Nazi/World War II generation have sought to do about their history. There's no simple English translation of the concept, perhaps because the most of the people of the United States have so far not come to terms our own history of genocide against those who were here before us and of violence and torture inflicted on enslaved Africans and their descendants. Ultimately that U.S. guilt, our own national evil, is Neiman's subject. Much of this book is a tour of incomplete U.S. civil rights struggles right up through contemporary eruptions against murderous policing. She does this empathetically and observantly and there's much there. But Neiman really does believe we could learn from the Germans.

Since I have learned something, if never enough, about my own country's struggles against our embedded evils, I was most intrigued in this book by Neiman's exploration of how Germans have dealt with their past. She sees distinct and important differences between the two halves of the country, divided at the end of World War II into capitalist West Germany and Soviet socialist-oriented East Germany. Since Germany's split territory was unified in 1990, we can forget that the two Germanys had 45 years of somewhat different social and ethical evolution.

West Germany was slow to come to terms with its Nazi past, in good part because the victorious Allies -- the U.S., Britain and France -- wanted to get a prosperous capitalist state on its feet quickly and were comfortable with using many former Nazis to get the job done. The population at large experienced themselves as defeated in war, not guilty. Eighteen hundred people assembled by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno of the University of Frankfurt after the war were encouraged to speak openly:
Though the participants represented a large variety of occupations and education, their language and historical references suggest fairly high capacities for reflection. They just didn't use them. None expressed a desire to return to the good old days of the Third Reich ... but whatever memories they had of peace, prosperity and pride in the '30s were battered by what followed. Stalingrad at the front and bombed-out cities at home produced shock and shame that were amply clear in 1950. The shame, however, had no moral component. Nearly every participant ... denied any suggestion of guilt. One former soldier went so far as to deny that Germany had started the war. It was America, he said, that sent Germany to Russia so that Germany would bear the brunt of fighting communism at its source. ...
Neiman describes Germans' experience of their country's past on a time line which appeals to my historical consciousness. After enough time has past, a reckoning with guilt became both possible and necessary.
"Being German in my generation," says the prizewinning author Carolin Emcke, "means distrusting yourself." She was born in 1967. 
Exact birth dates are important in Germany. If you were born before 1910, your education was not soaked through with Nazi propaganda, and you probably knew enough Jews to inoculate you against the worst of it. If you were born after 1928, your education was in Nazi hands, but you were too young to be drafted into the Wehrmacht ... In between, you were likely out of luck. Postwar dates matter just as much. If you were born after 1960, it's unlikely that your father was in the army, though his school days would have been informed by it, as well as the memory of the bombs that fell in the course of what Goebbels called Total War. Born a little earlier, you are probably torn and frayed. I know no honest man or woman of that generation who wasn't in some unreachable place broken. If you've ever had the misfortune to learn an awful truth about your parents, you can put yourself in German shoes. ... 
They are called the '68ers, the generation born in the '40s that watched the Eichmann and Auschwitz trials on television and had epiphanies: suddenly the grim-lipped brutal silence of their parents and teachers had a cause. ...Because the parents could not mourn, acknowledge responsibility, or even speak about the war, the next generation was damned to express it ...
The consequence of these epiphanies was a serious confrontation with the meaning of society-wide anti-Semitism and a perverted German nationalism which aimed to impose itself on the world through criminal violence.

That's West Germany. East Germany was long another country, cut off from its siblings. And Neiman makes and defends an assertion, highly controversial in both reunified Germany and the West, about the split. She acknowledges the East was a grim authoritarian place but ...
*East German did a better job of working off the Nazi past than West Germany. ... East Germany's ways of working-off-the-past have been largely forgotten [since reunification].
She enumerates five facets indicating a national attempt to come to terms with a criminal past, contrasting East Germany's path with how the United States has dealt with our past. The more linear, intentional East German confrontation with its Nazi past provides a jumping off point from which to look at the weak and incomplete gestures toward working off of genocide and slavery on this side of the Atlantic.
•   "The nation must achieve a coherent and widely accepted national narrative." She contrasts the East's clarity with U.S. equivocation about whether our Civil War was about slavery or state's rights. "Although the East German narrative ... was incomplete, its tenor was very clear. NAZIS WERE BAD, DEFEATING THEM WAS GOOD. ..."

•   "Narratives start with words and are reinforced by symbols. ... Which heroes do we valorize, which victims do we mourn? The United States has hundreds of monuments depicting a noble-looking Robert E. Lee ... There are no monuments to the Nazis in Germany, East or West, but only after reunification did West Germany build significant monuments to the victims."

•   "Narratives are transported through education. What are children taught to remember and what are they meant to forgot? American textbooks have been improved since I was child, when  the heroic story of western expansion left out the genocide of Native Americans entirely, glossed over the horrors of slavery, and never mentioned Jim Crow. East German history textbooks were resolutely antifascist from the beginning. In the first decades after the war, West German children were left with the impression that history stopped after 1933 ...Today Nazism is not merely covered in history classes; it has a central place in subjects like literature and art."

•   "Words are even more powerful when set to music. So can we sing 'Dixie'? What about the German national anthem"? ... It may be time for the United States to rewrite our national anthem ..."

•   "West German justice prosecuted only a tiny number of Nazis and usually commuted the sentences of those who were convicted. East Germany tried and convicted a far greater proportion of war criminals. Both countries paid reparations, in different ways, for crimes committed in the Nazi era. As of this writing, the United States has refused to consider a congressional resolution to discuss the possibility of reparations for slavery. ..."
This is a complicated, nuanced, sprawling, deeply empathetic book. It's not about arousing guilt; it's about living in the knowledge of evil. It offers more questions than answers. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Here's Neiman's conclusion:
Germany's attempts to work off its past have stumbled many times, but compared with the efforts of other countries, they are steps in the right direction. ... self criticism is vital to the process of Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung. It's a process that's never likely to be finished or final, echoing Samuel Beckett's adage: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better."