Saturday, May 28, 2022

A great divorce

Outside the NRA convention in Houston:

David Lauter explains in the Los Angeles Times:

Go back roughly 15 years: In 2005, California had almost the same rate of deaths from guns as Florida or Texas. California had 9.5 firearms deaths per 100,000 people that year, Florida had 10 and Texas 11, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Since then, California repeatedly has tightened its gun laws, while Florida and Texas have moved in the opposite direction.

California’s rate of gun deaths has declined by 10% since 2005, even as the national rate has climbed in recent years. And Texas and Florida? Their rates of gun deaths have climbed 28% and 37% respectively. California now has one of the 10 lowest rates of gun deaths in the nation. Texas and Florida are headed in the wrong direction.

David French has imagined how the gulf between the states might lead to a fictional CalExit via Joe Matthews:

It was gun violence that finally drove California to secede from the United States.

A series of mass shootings culminated in a savage, Columbine-style attack on a Sacramento-area school that killed 35 kids and two cops. The shooters used semi-automatic rifles and pistols with large-capacity magazines—weaponry that had been illegal in California until the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the state’s gun control laws. Californians raged that the justices—and the federal government—had effectively murdered their children.

That anger soon spiraled into a cold civil war, with California’s elected leaders openly defying federal officials and laws by outlawing most guns, and imposing a mandatory buyback. An authoritarian Republican president retaliated with an economic blockade of the state. After right-wing militias invaded the state and used Facebook Live to broadcast their massacre of California Highway Patrol officers enforcing state gun laws, California’s governor declared her intention to depart the Union, subject to the result of a referendum by voters. ...

Doesn't seem so farfetched after Uvalde,  does it?

Friday, May 27, 2022

Friday cat blogging

Janeway is taking her beauty sleep. I had better give up on getting up any time soon. It's her lap.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

It's not those demanding workers who are driving inflation

This came along, shared by economic historian Adam Tooze:

The profit surge in the first phase of the COVID recovery only confirms the stark imbalance of our social conditions. The current debate about inflation and wage-price spirals is - more or less openly - a debate about whether that class balance might be about to shift. And if so, will that shift be merely temporary - an effect of labour market tightness for instances - or will the energy of a new generation of union organizers, impelled in part by rising prices, produce a more lasting rebalancing?

As the logic of capitalism dictates, entities with the power to do it are taking all they can get from an exhausted, restive populace. Might this situation stimulate more worker organizing? Workers deserve some too. And labor assertiveness seems the order of the day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Time for some different Senators

In case you missed this, don't. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr reacts to the Texas school massacre.

"Any basketball questions don't matter. ... there's 50 Senators who refuse to vote on a [gun purchase] background check measure ... and the reason they won't vote on it is to hold onto power."

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Maybe not healing, but movement toward a different equilibrium

It's so obvious that the experience of the pandemic has left just about everyone spooked and perhaps a little nutty. Pauline Boss's little volume -- The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change -- speaks directly to a facet of what made the last two years so hard: so often the people who would have formed a support circle for sick people and for surviving loved ones couldn't be present with those who needed them. The horrible paradigmatic case is of couples and families who were kept from even saying goodbye to their dying members at the height of COVID infection fears. But all of us in our own ways lived with losses that couldn't be faced in the social ways we would have once thought only normal.

Boss' career and expertise is in helping people who've experienced the awful trauma which she named "ambiguous loss." In particular, she worked with people who lost family members in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center -- no bodies, no mementoes, just agonizing uncertainty that finally morphed into certainty. Loss of this kind has particular markers.
Ambiguous loss is neither a disorder nor a syndrome, simply a framework to help us understand the complexity and nuances of loss and how to live with it. My focus is on building resilience to live with and thrive despite a loss that can't be clarified. Here, resilience means increasing your tolerance for ambiguity. As a result of the great uncertainty that surrounded the COVID-19 pandemic, the ambiguous loss skyrocketed and left some lasting effects for us to deal with for years to come, as individuals and as a collective. ... 
... Wherever they are, I write for the millions who are still unmoored by their pandemic losses and want to make sense of them. With so many sickened and dead worldwide, we are just now emerging from this great shadow of death. Life will go on, but it will be different. It already is. We won't go back to the way we were because change is both needed and taking place. ... What helps? Letting go of the idea of closure and instead, finding meaning in our losses, thinking both/and about the positive and negative, and finally, risking change by doing something different. ..
In addition to our pandemic losses, Boss insists that in the last few years, many of us have also been trying to absorb heightened awareness of murderous white supremacy and of advancing climate collapse. No wonder as COVID recedes (we hope), many of us nonetheless feel unmoored, a little at sea. And we need to understand, according to this author, that "closure" is a myth.
In the popular vernacular, closure is unfortunately used to describe the ending of the grief that comes after loss. The assumption is that you'll be "over it," done with your sorrow once you have closure. Not true. ... What I have learned is that even with the most extreme cases of loss, having no closure doesn't have to be devastating. ... I saw repeatedly that keeping loved ones present in one's heart and mind, even after they have disappeared or died, helps on to hold the loss and its grief without seeking an absolute ending.  
... the cost of seeking closure is that it's impossible and thus saps our energy and distracts us from seeing other coping options that could lead to more emotional growth and resilience. The benefits of not seeking closure are many. ... without needing closure, we can feel more rooted in this world because we now see more than ourselves in it. We are genetically part of those who have gone before -- and thus part of the human species. With continuity instead of closure, we are not alone.
As most readers of this blog know, I'm not much for psychologizing. But I found Boss' little volume humane, compassionate, and wise. Like most of us, I've felt surrounded by losses in the last couple of disorienting years -- especially by too many deaths (though none from the coronavirus) -- most not marked as we would have in the before times. We need to be gentle with each other. Boss knows that.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Some smart advice to politicians

Don Moynihan is a scholar of how government actually works -- and doesn't. At Can We Still Govern?, he argues that Democratic politicians have lost track of how worthy programs they may set up fail in practice. And he suggests how to do better when it comes to cancelling student debt ...
At the broadest level the Obamacare and student loan examples underline that policymakers need to update their basic theories of how political acts generate political returns. In the most simple terms, the standard working theory seems to be: 
    •    Public benefits = recipient gratitude and goodwill 
If policymakers were to think more carefully about implementation, they would revise their working theory to be a bit more complicated: 
    •    Public benefits that are easy to get = recipient gratitude and good will
    •    Public benefits that are hard to get = much less gratitude and goodwill
    •    Promised public benefits that are impossible to get = backlash 
Biden is already going to face some backlash from those opposed to the idea of any type of student loan forgiveness. He should do all he can to avoid it from the people the program is intended to help.
If the Biden administration does cancel some student debt as promised in the 2020 election campaign, can they please demonstrate that they can do it without placing crazy burdens on the people who most need help?

Since the Clinton administration, Democrats have allowed themselves to be bullied by Republicans into creating endless procedural fences around the work of government support for the people. In consequence, too often government is appropriately despised by many recipients. But hardly anyone hates Social Security, or Medicare, or stimulus checks during the early COVID era. Government assistance can be made easy. And easy is the politic course of action.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Buffalo's racist massacre

The news cycle whirls on. But I'm not willing to let Black Buffalo's trauma be pushed out of mind by new horrors.

Fortunately, some news organizations are providing those of us at a distance a means to learn something from the Buffalo community torn apart by a white supremacist, a sick evil man with a big gun.

Most local TV news is a cesspool of over-hyped police procedural pseudo-drama. But this local reporter stumbled into evoking honest answers from a small gathering of auto workers near the massacre sight.

 
The clip is longer than I usually post here, but raw and necessary. These men have something to say. Bear with the dumb questions. The outrage in Buffalo is so strong, he gets answers.

This clip is shorter, more polished: community leaders make their pitch for what the Biden administration can do for the traumatized people. 

I can't testify that these are good organizations, but they seem to have at least some amount of ground level reality. Buffalonians will have to struggle to define what happens after this crime.

Black Love Exists in the Rust: getting food and support into the community in partnership with Colored Girls Bike Too.

Open Buffalo

Voice Buffalo 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

She's a fighter

Congresswoman Lucy McBath is not going to give in to a system that's been trying to kill her. In 2012, her son Jordan was murdered by a white man who didn't like his music. She has dedicated her life to ensuring that no parent has to feel the pain that she felt that day – and that she feels to this day. 

In this clip, she describes, in a Congressional speech, how anti-abortion laws and prejudices nearly killed her when she very much wanted her pregnancy.

McBath's anti-gun activism led her to run for Congress in an Atlanta suburban seat in 2018 -- and flip that seat without support from establishment Democrats.

After her two terms in Congress, Republicans are trying to get rid of this proud spokeswoman for the true life experiences of women. A Georgia gerrymander put her in a district with another Democrat (also a worthy Congresswoman). The primary is on Tuesday, May 24.

UPDATE: She won her primary this week.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Terrorism begets terror

It really is that simple. Washington Post reporter Clyde McGrady has shared an intimate story of what it feels like to have some random young white weirdo come gunning for your community.  People in the Buffalo Black community are reeling under the trauma of the massacre.
Some struggle to understand the motivations of the killer. Some feel their insides burn with rage. Others pray — for the victims, for the killer, that those contemplating retaliation will turn away from anger.
Tricia Grannum needed to pick up a prescription.
“I’ve never felt like this, going into a store,” she told her mother when she got home. “I’ve never felt scared to get out of a car.”
This is what terrorism does to people who have reason to fear they are not going to find any lasting support. That seems to be Buffalo.

Go read it all.

Also worth reading is Washington Post media correspondent Margaret Sullivan's account of what's so wrong in Buffalo. She knows much. She edited the local paper before becoming a national voice for journalistic integrity.

Friday cat blogging

Sometimes Janeway radiates a sense that we don't quite live up to her standards. What they are, I don't know. We're reliable providers of food, water, ear scratching, and laps for sleeping ... we don't play enough for her kitten persona, but this look is her adult persona.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Deadly stasis

“Buffalo is a powder keg,” said Franchelle Parker, executive director of Open Buffalo. “We can’t talk about what happened on Saturday as one isolated event. Buffalo has been a breeding ground for this type of situation to occur.”
Has so little changed since the 1960s? Apparently not. The massacre in Buffalo took place two miles from my childhood home. Not that, as a young person, I hardly ever ventured over there -- into east of Main Street, into darkest Buffalo where Black Buffalonians were corralled. 
Since the 1930s, Black neighborhoods have been ranked as financially unstable to dissuade lenders from approving Black homeowners for loans. This meant Black homeowners were subject to different procedures when purchasing a home, which restricted the flow of capital into Black neighborhoods and prohibited Black homeowners from buying in white neighborhoods—reinforcing segregation. 
The lack of access to loans also made it more difficult for Black people to open businesses and build wealth, sparking a downward spiral of disinvestment. Today, the impacts of segregation are clearly visible in the resources available in the city of Buffalo. Of the five major employment centers in Erie County, only one is located within the city of Buffalo, and there are 51 census block groups that have limited access to supermarkets. Every single one is located east of Main Street.

Even in my insulated white high school, I knew something should be done to break the pattern; I demonstrated with a fair housing outfit. It seems to still be operating, still a necessary cog in Buffalo's nonprofit industrial complex.


In those days there was hope of a sort. There was the civil rights movement in the South. There were somewhat organized community demands. There was the communal outpouring of frustration/rebellion in 1967.

By then I'd escaped to California. White Buffalo wasn't any place for a lefty lesbian feminist then -- or probably now.

The people east of Main Street have not escaped, nor can they, nor perhaps do they wish to. I've even known people who moved there for refuge -- where else in the 1990s could you find a house, however dilapidated, for under $10K? Maybe in some burned out section of Detroit -- there's a pattern here.

I just pray that the folks east of Main Street can leverage some of the attention the murderous white man with an AR-15 has brought to their community for some improvement, some hope.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

COVID is becoming a killer of the young

I didn't know this. Apparently over the last year, COVID has been the leading medical cause of death in the United States among people under 55. Not chronic diseases, not suicide, or other gun episodes -- but COVID.

Click to enlarge

According to Inside Medicine:

Many believe that Covid-19 is merely a cold for all young people and a death sentence for a handful of older folks who probably would have died around the same time anyway. 
That is wrong. 
We know there has been extraordinary “excess mortality”—that is more deaths than usual during the pandemic. It’s not just that people dying of cancer happened to have caught Covid in the last weeks of their lives. Rather, people are dying way early—sometimes months, but more often years and decades earlier than they otherwise would have. 
... What surprises many is just how many young and middle-aged adults have died. Nearly 250,000 people under the age of 65 have died of Covid-19 in the United States so far. Around 61,000 of these deaths were in people under the age of 50. 

Those of us 65 and older are 90% fully vaccinated in the United States. Covid can kill vaccinated people, but in the most part, serious outcomes -- deaths -- happen to unvaccinated people, who are largely younger.

• • •

We're very COVID conscious around here at the moment as a household member has tested positive. So far, so good here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Hiding beneath the robes of a tame court?

California's Catholic bishops have run whining to the U.S. Supreme Court; the demonstrated deference the current justices show toward religious claims justifies my adjective in the headline. For these judges, the rights of religious institutions seem to override all other rights.

Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, CA
CalMatters explains the legal claim: 

Nine California Catholic dioceses and archdioceses have asked the nation’s highest court to review their case against a 2019 law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which created a three-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file legal claims against alleged perpetrators at school, church or elsewhere, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred. The law also allowed defendants to be sued for a new offense: “cover up” activity. 
In the April 15 petition, which was first reported last week by the Catholic News Agency, lawyers for the Catholic bishops assert the law is unconstitutional because California already gave victims a chance to sue in 2002 — when it opened a one-year portal for sex abuse survivors to file claims with no time limit attached — and because it retroactively adds new liabilities.

The Survivors Network (SNAP) is having none of it:

We are not surprised that Catholic officials in California are fearful of the lawsuits that allow those who have been time-barred from justice access to the courts.  These suits represent transparency and honesty and would make it far more difficult to pretend that their abuse scandal is a thing of the past. Window legislation is allowing thousands of victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, nuns, religious brothers, and laity to come forward and expose these crimes. 
It is our firm belief that many, many more survivors who have been abused in the 1990s or early 2000 have yet to realize the damage done to them and remain silent in their pain. We know that window legislation exposes both predators and the institutions that covered up these horrific crimes. 
We urge the Court to throw out this meritless challenge.... 

BishopAccountability.org collects documentation on the sexual abuse crisis. They currently report 29 U.S. Catholic dioceses and religious orders have filed for bankruptcy protection because of the claims of survivors. The one recent(ish) such filing from California was of the Diocese of Stockton in 2014.

Will the Supremes ensure this is the last such accountability event from California?

Monday, May 16, 2022

On deciding not to bear a child

The Los Angeles Progressive has reprinted Erudite Partner's 2019 story of when she chose to have an abortion manyyears ago: 

I was 22 years old, living in a cold, dark house in Portland, Oregon, spending my days huddled in front of a wood stove trying to finish my undergraduate senior thesis. I did not want to have a baby. I didn’t know what would come next in my life, but I knew it would not include raising a child. Until the moment the doctor told me I was pregnant — we didn’t have at-home tests in those days — I’d always believed that, although it was perfectly ethical for other women to have abortions, I would never do so. In that electric instant, however, I knew that what I had believed about myself was wrong. ...

Go read it all.

Since the Alito opinion leaked, she has come out to her college students about her long ago abortion ...

Sunday, May 15, 2022

June 7 election -- San Francisco and beyond


Yes, we have an upcoming primary and local election here in California on June 7. Yesterday, while having lunch with friends, they asked whether I'd made my usual slate of endorsements/commentary. I hadn't, because there's only one matter on the ballot I much give any brain cells to. But I aim to please ...

 If you live in San Francisco, the one and only measure that matters is Vote No on Prop. H. That's the effort to recall our District Attorney Chesa Boudin, after two pandemic years which have left the electorate pissy and the city looking a little squalid. The city has real problems -- a police department which seems to be on a kind of work slow down while facing increased oversight, very little life in the downtown business district which provides the economic engine of the region, and corrupt governance. Entrepreneurial tech and real estate bros want to offer up Boudin as a scapegoat for all that ails us. I've passed along the Chronicle's rejection of the recall. Here's the Examiner's:

The recall campaign’s case against San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin tends to be light on facts but heavy on anecdote, emotion and accusations that usually prove untrue. ... Easily disprovable claims typify the recall’s attacks on Boudin. They also raise an important question: If the charges against Boudin are so strong, why does the recall promote so many falsehoods?

... Contrary to popular belief, Boudin’s record so far largely resembles those of previous DAs. In addition, San Francisco has experienced far smaller crime spikes than Sacramento, which has a supposedly “tough on crime” DA. Boudin does not take credit for these relatively positive statistics, but he gets blamed for nearly every individual act of crime even though his own critics admit that’s illogical.

If we recall Boudin, we'll be compounding breakage of local government. If you don't like Boudin's work, dump him at the next regularly scheduled election in 2023 -- that's not so far in the future.

• • •

So what else are we voting on? We face Props A through G. Yikes!

Prop. A is a Muni bond measure. Muni needs all the help it can get ... let's hope the transit system can use this money well if it passes.

Prop. B gives the mayor more control over the Building Department. The Building Department has been a corrupt nest of vipers since Willie Brown's tenure (ended 2004). This would give mayors more control over the department's oversight commission. Hard to believe anything short of some jail terms will have much effect ...

Prop. C would prohibit recalls within a year of the next election for the post and would prohibit anyone a mayor appointed to fill in for a recalled official from running in the next election. Yes!

Prop. D would create an Office of Victims and Witness Rights to coordinate services. Hard to be enthusiastic about proliferating bureaucracies, but it might help.

Prop. E try to prevent a form of graft most recently exemplified by former Public Works director Mohammed Nuru. Not sure why our laws don't already cover these influence deals, but sure, let's have some more laws.

Prop. F also responds to corruption revealed in city employees' and leaders' relationship with Recology, the garbage company. Might work.

Prop. G covers a gap in protection of employees of large businesses revealed by the pandemic, requiring paid public health emergency leave. Yes.

• • •

Then we have various statewide offices to which our June votes promote candidates for the November election. The emphatic rejection of the Newsom recall rendered most of these proforma exercises. All the Democratic incumbents for statewide office face little realistic opposition, so we'll mostly vote for them now -- and vote for them again in November.

The one exception is the contest for Attorney General, California's top law enforcement officer. Among other duties, this is where police reforms ultimately land. A former state assemblyman, Rob Bonta, was appointed by Gov. Gavin to fill the office vacated when Xavier Becerra went off to join the Biden administration. Bonta seems to be doing a solid, responsible job in a difficult place. Bonta's competition is hard law-n-order Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert who wants this job so much she dropped her Republican identification to run as an independent. (California doesn't elect Republicans.) Schubert is a huge fan of the death penalty and has the enthusiast support of the police unions. Even in this pissy year, I don't think Californians want to go there, though I expect a hard fought contest in November.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Shorebirds for a lovely Saturday morning



As always, click to enlarge. Must have been something tasty floating on the waves.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Friday cat blogging

There's a cat in that drawer. Janeway seems to be assessing whether I'll disturb her hiding place. She was right, I pulled her out.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Walk for me ...

Just have to say, I can't get particularly upset that people are walking around on the offending Justices' sidewalks. When people are violated -- as women are and will be by abortion restrictions that don't accord with their beliefs -- they respond. Unless I'm missing something, no justices have been shot, which can't be said of doctors who volunteered to perform abortions.

Sure, these nice white people protests may be impolitic -- and even illegal -- but they seem pretty harmless considering the provocation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

One Congessional primary gone very sour

I’m Nida Allam. Last year, I had an abortion that saved my life. Now, the Supreme Court is taking away our right to choose. People like us won’t have access to care. And we will die. That’s what’s at stake. Super PACs are spending millions trying to silence me, but our movement is stronger than that. I’m endorsed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Nida Allam is running in a Democratic primary in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina for an open congressional seat. The winner of the primary can be expected to win the seat in November. Allam is something of a rising star in NC Democratic politics, currently serving on the Durham County Board of Commissioners. Allam was drawn into politics in response to the murder of three of her friends in the context of an Islamophobic hate crime in 2015.

She certainly has reason to speak out against the right wing drive to outlaw abortions; the procedure she alludes to in this ad ended an ectopic pregnancy that might have killed her if she had been forced to carry the fetus to term. 

Allam is not expected to win. She put together a strong campaign and a respectable amount of cash -- but the aggressively pro-Israel/anti-Palestinian lobbying group AIPAC and its associates jumped in to fund her establishment rival, Valerie Foushee, to the tune of some $1.7 million dollars. All of a sudden, this is the most expensive House contest in North Carolina history. 

And it's ugly. Anonymous texts to voters suggest there is a supporter of terrorists on the ballot. The progressive caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party rescinded its endorsement of Foushee because AIPAC has funded 100 Republicans who refuse to condemn the January 6 insurrection. Bernie Sanders has tweeted his disgust with the AIPAC intervention, demanding to know what the group has against "strong progressive women of color fighting for the working class."  The progressive Jewish lobbying group J Street has denounced the AIPAC political interventions:

J Street's vice president of communications, Logan Bayroff, called AIPAC's 2022 investments a way "to try to defeat, silence and, in some cases, smear progressives. ... we were created to help provide a political voice for the large majority of the American Jewish community that holds liberal democratic values and liberal views when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and foreign policy," Bayroff added.

Early voting has begun for the May 24 primary.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

On learning to live together

Judd Legum, at his Popular Information substack, continues to follow the story of the Florida math textbooks which that state's book burners have rejected as teaching the forbidden "critical race theory" (some might allude to the country's racial history) and also the dreaded "Social Emotional Learning." Here's an example of this dangerously subversive notion:

What a terrible thought ...

Every time I read about this I'm reminded an episode I've written about before: the college baseball players at the University of San Francisco who were distressed and confused by coaches who taught using dick-waving and brutal displays of dominance. These young men walked away, feeling violated. They also sued the school.

Kids raised on "learn your words," on "listen" to each other, and on "work together," do become resistant to teaching methods that demand they become competitive brutes. I think that's a good thing.

• • •

For an inspiring example of how young people might learn about racism in this society, I recommend Eboo Patel's essay, What I Want My Kids to Learn About American Racism. We should be able to teach what cannot be ignored, constructively.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Do we know where we are going?

The Ukrainians are so brave and so largely admirable. We're so sick of feeling mired in ugly politics -- and literally sick of being sick. Might we be bumbling into war and more war? 

Economic historian Adam Tooze examines the last time the United States utilized what our congress called Lend Lease to aid European good guys in 1939-41. His article is vital history and raises what must be raised. Looking back, we're glad FDR accomplished political wizardry in order to assist Britain. But there is nothing simple about this kind of aid.

In openly declaring our intention to adopt all measures short of war to ensure Russia’s military defeat and in invoking Lend Lease in doing so, we must surely ask ourselves that question, what is our theory of Putin? And beyond Putin what is our model of the escalatory dynamics at work in 2022?

In swathing ourselves in historic garments, are we inviting Putin to do the same? Are we inviting him to fully inhabit the role of the maniacal dictator who can only be crushed out of existence? Are we, as in 1941, crossing the point of no return? Are we, consciously or not, assuming further escalation?

In so doing, are we assuming that escalation will have the same kind of “happy end” that World War II eventually had for the United States in 1945? The kind of “happy end” that makes Lend Lease into a myth shrouded in good feelings - a grand chapter. in the “American story”?

Or, are we, in fact, hoping that 2022 unfolds as 1941 did not? That Putin is not suicidal? That this time the escalation remains confined to Ukraine and Russia? That this becomes, as some American strategists envisioned Lend Lease in 1941, a calculated exercise in using the dogged resistance of a client - then the British now Ukrainians - to attrit a geopolitical antagonist?

Some of our leaders, including ones I'm inclined to credit like Nancy Pelosi, seem a little high on Ukrainian sacrifice and prowess these days. May we not commit to fight a war with Russia to the last Ukrainian ... can Joe Biden find the tight rope and stay balanced? I will say, he seems more prepared for this than anyone we've had in the White House in the last couple of decades.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Mother's day 2022

Here's my mother, Martha Roberts Sidway Adams, in 1993. tending her flowers. I have better pictures, but this seemed the appropriate one this year. She would have been 84 when I snapped this.

The year before, Buffalo NY, the city she identified deeply with despite its many problems, had been the target of the fanatical anti-abortion crusaders who called themselves Operation Rescue (OR). 

In 1991 OR took its campaign of mass protest and clinic blockades to Wichita, Kansas where they snarled that city for most of the summer and accumulated over 2600 arrests.

To OR's leaders, Buffalo -- a working class, very Catholic city, with an anti-abortion mayor --  looked like a great site to replicate its Wichita antics for the spring of 1992. But Buffalo proved unexpectedly resistant.

The shock troops of resistance to OR were the young lefty clinic defenders, of course. But older, comfortable, WASP Republican women -- like my mother -- were horrified by the anti-abortion crusaders. They supported women in need of the clinics with public declarations of disgust with the invasion and with cash.

It took OR leaders only a couple of weeks to choose to retreat with their tails between their legs. Buffalo did not welcome OR, though access to abortion remained a contested right.

Mother was so proud of being a tiny part of civic resistance to the anti-abortionists. She completely believed that pregnancy had to be up to the women. We seldom agreed politically, but in 1992 the right to abortion was something we had in common. She never wavered on this.

Takes me back ...

Saturday, May 07, 2022

De-industrialization all around

Part 2: Insights from There Is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century by Fiona Hill; Part 1 here.

The second theme of this fascinating book that I want to highlight is that the people who built the industrial economy and modern world have been screwed similarly in the U.K., the U.S.S.R., and the U.S. by subsequent economic developments. They are all left-behind people.

Fiona Hill comes from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, in the North East of England. The early industrial revolution was based on coal and the labor of the miners who dug it; her hometown was where much of the coal which powered British commerce and military might came from when the empire ruled much of the globe during the 19th century.

But by the time Hill was born in 1965, English coal country was an economic disaster area. She writes:

In the 1980s, during the period when Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s prime minister, we were the pioneers for a unique form of social and economic malaise — a decline from the heyday of the industrial era that would come to define the entire developed world. The local mines closed,  along with associated manufacturing industries. Businesses were shuttered, communities gutted. Family and friends lost their way of life. Bishop Auckland, my once-prosperous hometown, was a forgotten place.
When she came to the United States in 1989 to pursue her professional fortune, she found her parents' coal town had all too many analogues in this country.
In the decades after I arrived in the United States, the fate of my home area in the United Kingdom was that of every major mining community in the Appalachia region, stretching from Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in the south up to West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in the north. America’s coal country too lost the mainstay of its economy and opportunity.
She had struggled for educational and career opportunities and had the good fortune to find a niche as an expert on Russia. Russian forced-march industrialization was the wonder of the inter-European-war world in the 1930s. But by the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, she recognized familiar situations. Post-industrial misery was
... also emblematic of industrial regions across Russia and the former Soviet Union, and indeed in other parts of Europe. This fact was a significant revelation once I moved beyond the narrow confines of the blighted world that I was from and finally began to understand the forces shaping our lives in the twentieth century.
She points out a pattern replicated out across different countries and economic systems.
Structurally, the United Kingdom and the United States — like Russia and other advanced economies — cycled through a rapid buildup of extractive industry and mass manufacturing in the 1920s and 1930s and again at the end of the Second World War. Our nations began the descent into what became known as the postindustrial era in the 1960s, and especially after the 1970s, when they were hit by successive oil shocks.
... The 1980s were the critical turning point. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan helped to drive the nail into the coffin of twentieth-century industry while ensuring that those trapped inside the casket would find it practically impossible to pry the lid off. 
... at the end of the 1980s, the Rust Belt was far more like the Soviet Union and the North East of England than most Americans realized. The United States’ big industries had also developed under a fixed set of technological and economic conditions. They were huge enterprises, centers of mass production, purpose-built for a specific time and place in the first half of the twentieth century. They had been built close to major sources of raw materials, energy, and transportation routes, such as shipping routes across the Great Lakes or down major rivers to the ocean. They had enormous sunken and fixed costs. The enterprises had drawn in hundreds, sometimes thousands of workers, often with central state and local government intervention and direction. 
... [These U.S. towns] were in essence the same kind of big company or mono-industry towns as Dnipropetrovsk (now in Ukraine), Stalingrad (now Volgograd), and Magnitogorsk in the USSR. Regardless of the particular circumstances of their individual creation, they were now outmoded and depleted, their big industries shrinking as they modernized and became automated. 
... Mass industries built the cities, not the other way around. When the industries closed, the place-based economies and societies crumpled in on themselves. ...  It was the same in the U.S., the UK, and the USSR. When the mine or the factory closed, there was no work, nothing to do, and nowhere to go. Thriving industry-built cities became shattered ghost town.
Having grown up in Buffalo in the decades when that city was losing its automotive and steel industries, I find it easy to visualize the economic devastation. (Like Hill, I got out ASAP; apologies to Buffalonians who are still today trying to dig the place out of its doldrums.) What I find novel is Hill's documentation that Soviet heavy industrial cities were experiencing something so similar. Using up and throwing away the land and people who do the work is simply the way of heavy industrial development, everywhere, whether under capitalism or "socialism."

Hill explains very clearly how the consequences of de-industrialization were particularly brutal for many workers of the Soviet Union. In the UK, Labour governments had won the National Health Service and some educational opportunity for working class students like Hill. Russians even under the decayed communism of the Brezhnev era, expected to have guaranteed jobs with social subsidies like housing, health care, and a pension. These weren't good lives, but they were lives. The violent imposition of kleptocratic capitalism in the 1990s was literally fatal to people who had once worked in heavy industries which could not be made profitable. Workers were out on their ears, took to drink, died young, and whole cities were depopulated. Sound familiar?

In Britain and the U.S., the people left behind by de-industrialization do still have the chance to to express themselves in free elections. Winners in the contemporary economy may find their choices incomprehensible, but Hill doesn't. Trump's rise made sense to her.
Populists play in the gaps created by generational and demographic change, divergent economic circumstances, competing social and cultural identities, and along the seams of inequality. ... From my vantage point growing up in the industrial North East, it was easy to see Trump’s allure for American workers. ... On trips to visit my family, I heard plenty of complaints in Bishop Auckland, ... about the way local voters were taken for granted by Labour politicians who wanted a safe seat in Parliament to satisfy their own ambitions. In their view, the Labour Party had abandoned the working class. ... Similarly, in the United States, workers believed the Democratic Party had abandoned them .
Hill's clear-sighted understanding of the failures of UK and US governance didn't make her a Trump believer. She joined his National Security Council because she hoped to use her expertise about Russia to avert terrible choices by an ignorant buffoon. She was at the Women's March in DC when she got the call about the job. She's very much a Russia-hawk, but way too well-informed and realistic to be a contemporary Republican apparatchik, even if they'd have her back after her impeachment testimony. She's a patriotic immigrant U.S. citizen who knows we Americans are sometimes neither wise nor good.

And she has a prescription for bringing the places in the first world where de-industrialization has destroyed individuals, families, and communities: more educational opportunity for children and adults. She has a detailed, thoughtful chapter on how community organizing and education might turn the left-behind places around, all drawn from her own experience. After all, education worked for her ... the girl from Bishop Auckland wasn't supposed to go anywhere and ended up testifying before the U.S. Congress ...

Part 1 about Hill's personal struggles is here.

Friday, May 06, 2022

On succeeding in a world made for other sorts of people

Sometimes a book is so informative, so mind-expanding, that I find it hard to write about it here. I want my readers to share my intellectual delight. But I doubt my ability to describe my enthusiasm.

That's how I feel about Fiona Hill's There Is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century. Let's simplify this: Hill has written a must read volume! And for the best experience, I highly recommend reading the audio version as she reads it herself and her accent is a part of the story.

So what is this book? It's a memoir from the Russian expert few of us had ever heard of until she testified at Donald Trump's first impeachment -- the impeachment for trying to strong arm the Ukrainian president by withholding congressionally authorized weapons unless he helped with potential dirt on Joe Biden. (Looks even worse now than it did at the time, doesn't it?) Improbably she's a naturalized immigrant from England's depressed north who ended up, through sheer brains and grit, working on Trump's national security council .

Hill's Trump impeachment saga adds little to what journalists have reported; DJT is a corrupt pig surrounded by moral monsters. But we knew that. Her Russia expertise is valuable now that we're in a quasi-war with Russia. She's long been a Russia hawk, and she seems to have been more accurate than I might have admitted a few months back. However the really interesting content of this book is not about Trumplandia; the memoir consists of two themes, each so engaging and important I'm going to write two posts about this book over the next few days.

First, this is a book about how inherited class position and its grinding injuries, as well as being a woman, shaped challenges and opportunities for this accomplished and accomplishing woman.

The young Fiona was from nowhere, otherwise known as the desolate former coal mining town of Bishop Auckland, County Durham, in the North East of England. Her father had expected a decent living and life as a miner; he was lucky to end up an orderly moving bed pans in the local hospital. The title of her memoir is her father's summation her prospects: she must find a way to get out, to leave the home she loved.

Yet her parents were people who could envision aspirations for her and she could for herself. She always aimed high:
Education was the key to changing my circumstances, but the kind, quality, and affordability of the education would be critical factors. Based on my background, as a schoolgirl in Bishop Auckland I could consider becoming a nurse like my mother. I could aspire to be a teacher like some of our relatives. All this would require hard work and also some good fortune. If the stars aligned and I really excelled at school, I might leave town for a regional university. I might reach higher to acquire other qualifications and become a white-collar professional, a doctor or maybe even a college lecturer. In this way I might attain a place in the British middle class. ...
It wasn’t until the late 1970s, when I was thirteen, that I became aware that there was a working class and that I was in it. I was on a school exchange to Tübingen, Germany, sponsored by the education authority of my regional government, Durham County Council. With only one exception, the other students were not from my school or town. In our first encounters, many of them grilled me with a set of three questions that would follow me from childhood to adulthood, all in the following order : “So, where are you from, then?” “What does your father do?” (there was no follow up about my mother), and “What school do you go to?” 
The questions the kids first posed to me in Tübingen were generally on the mark in terms of predicting my prospects ... 
That trip itself was a consequence of policies of the Labour government in Britain in the mid-1970s. There wasn't a lot of opportunity for young people from a coal mining family, but Labour reforms did away with the exam, taken at age eleven, which had foreclosed education forever to so many working class Brits. The very determined young Hill was able to attend a secondary school even if it had only a few books and hardly any qualified teachers. And despite being humiliated for even trying to aspire to Cambridge, she was accepted at St. Andrews University. Her scholarship didn't support her, but she took service jobs and persisted. And she was fortunate to find mentors who saw her potential.

As it is for most poor kids anywhere in the world, not only in the UK and the United States, university was a sudden, wrenching, and exhilarating life change. I was propelled up the social ladder with little practical preparation for confronting Britain’s class divides. ...
When she excelled in a French class, an astonished class mate from one of Britain's fancy "public" private schools asked her without apparent shame:
“Did you sleep with Mr Hunt? How could you have done so well? You’re just a common northerner.” She had a stern, harsh look on her face. She was completely serious. She clearly couldn’t fathom it. ... 
I too was shocked. And not just because of my classmate’s disparaging comment. Like most people who find themselves well outside their social and cultural comfort zone, I had an acute case of imposter syndrome. ... The accusation landed like an open palm across my face. 
I avoided [the accuser she labelled] "Ms. Cheltenham Ladies’ College" for the rest of my time at St. Andrews. It wasn’t especially hard; there were a few snobs who would never deign to talk to the likes of me. She probably never gave it a second thought. But she scorched herself in my memory. She also spurred me to keep on doing better. I didn’t want people like her to take any pleasure in my failure. 
... for some of my well-heeled classmates and their parents, I was a curiosity — a bit like a performing seal. There was a small seal colony in the Eden River Estuary at the end of St . Andrews’ West Sands beach. I used to walk along to watch them pull themselves out of the water and bask in the sun. I felt like a seal out of water most of the time, without the basking. No time for that.
With a little help from the Durham Miners’ Association and the Bishop Auckland Rotary Club, she managed to win a scholarship to pursue her interest in the decaying Soviet Union in 1987. That was an eye-opening experience. Here was a place where in some ways she fit.

For me, the year abroad in Moscow was a surprisingly easy transition despite the language and cultural differences and learning to navigate a big city for the first time. The dreaded determinative questions of “Where are you from? ” and “ What does your father do? ” met with instant approval. I was from a world-famous coal-mining area and my dad had been a miner. I was a standard-bearer of the working class. This gave me cachet in the Soviet Union. People could relate to me and my family story. 

... Social mobility through education was the norm in the USSR. Most of the Russian students from my institute, including those from the Communist Party elite, were only one or two generations away from a factory or collective farm or were the first in their families to pursue higher education. Many of my friends’ parents were factory workers in the outer reaches of Moscow.

The dying Soviet Union didn't make her a communist; instead it put her on track to become a Russia expert and to win a graduate fellowship at Harvard. In the United States, people she encountered didn't ask her the class questions; they found her accent intriguing. But she soon learned that her gender could hamper her advancement. The established authorities in her field were not ready for a woman Russia expert. 

I was finally beginning my career and carving out a portfolio of research on Russia. This was when the issue of being a woman in the workplace came into stark relief in some very specific contexts. In the 1990s, I began to understand that while gender — like place, class, and race — could be an almost insurmountable obstacle to personal mobility and success, women were not necessarily pitted against men in some kind of permanent zero-sum contest. Instead, the professional opportunities for women were there, but the work environment was unequal and I quickly learned that as a woman, appearances, not just being well prepared, mattered — and most things, including the buildings themselves, were set up with the expectation that men would predominate. Sometimes, for example, women’s bathrooms were few and far between, uncomfortably reducing the opportunity to pee during breaks. I often deliberately dehydrated myself in important meetings so I wouldn’t have to go out and miss something crucial as I searched, and then waited in the inevitable line, to use the tiny ladies’ bathroom.
She tells an hilarious story of a female colleague taking her in hand to buy a "professional" suit for interviews and thereby render this serious scholar a more suitable decorative object. On trips to Russia, being a woman was even more of an impediment.
The hurdles of gender were far higher than in the UK and the United States. Senior Russian men didn’t like Russian women to speak out or speak up in any way.
So much for any residue of "socialist" equality.

Meanwhile, rising in her profession to a series of eminent positions, Hill gradually came to understand that she was being paid less than men, often men with fewer credentials. Usually she found out after being hired at lower rates. This included her service in Trump's White House, an environment which seemed very familiar to her.

The Trump White House was a man’s world — predominantly one man’s world — and Trump was a very familiar type for me. In many respects he was not that much of a surprise in the way that he acted and interacted with people, apart from the fact that he was the American president. He was definitely and unabashedly a 1980s man in his approach to life and politics.
For all her hard acquired eminence, Fiona Hill has never forgotten the class consciousness she learned in Bishop Auckland.
... if there is one message that I hope to convey more forcefully than any other, it is that opportunity does not materialize from thin air and no one does anything alone. Barriers to opportunity and social mobility are personal and universal. Any individual success is a team or collective effort. ... 
Far too many people who were born into similar circumstances in the generations after me did not have the same opportunities. Deprived and disadvantaged, they will continue to be preyed upon by unscrupulous politicians who offer them a promise of opportunity in return for their votes. These left-behind people deserve better. But their problems are everyone’s.
The concluding chapter of this book includes some recipes for a more equitable place, class, race, and gender society. To be continued.

Friday cat blogging

Janeway enjoys a big yawn. Note those teeth. Human/feline coexistence sometimes breaks down when she forgets that I leak if she bites down on a hand. A minute later, she's all sweetness.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Another generation will learn what desperate women will do

This may have been the most prescient sign at Tuesday's demonstration. No bunch of Christian nationalists are going to stop a lot of women from aborting. Women have always done what women had to do -- whether that be raise children in poverty or violent circumstances or avoid having children when they couldn't or shouldn't raise them. Women get abortions.

Some will be in sanctuary states, so long as the majority can hold off the authoritarians. But some will be by whatever means women can imagine that might end an unwanted pregnancy. Yes, the famous coat hanger -- or throwing themselves down a flight of stairs -- or douching with heaven knows what.

I'm old enough to remember what being a young woman was like when abortion was illegal. We took up collections for pregnant classmates to send them off on buses to Tijuana, to risk their lives under the instruments of unknown practitioners. Some of our attitudes toward the Tijuana option were racist; but the dangers were real. You could be permanently injured by some greedy quack. Women will do what they think they have to do.

Modern abortion drugs will reduce some of the dangers, so long as the restrictionists fail to proscribe them. But women will abort, somehow.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

This insult strikes hard

A determined crowd, mostly women, strode up to the Philip Burton Federal Building Tuesday evening to proclaim loudly, "#bansoffourbodies."

They weren't there for the speeches -- at least I hope not as the sound system was not adequate for the size of the crowd.

 
A lot of women ...
Yes, there's a theme here.
 
It didn't feel like a moment for clever repartee -- but San Franciscans are always creative.
People were angry today. Can we give our anger political force? We have to.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

San Francisco redistricted

Here's a map of the city's new supervisor districts (red), overlaid on the old districts (purple). Getting there via the Redistricting Task Force, was a nightmare project, but here we are. See Mission Local's summary.

There are plenty of hard feelings. Communities which had hoped to aggregate their influence, but instead were broken apart, are angry. The coalition of organizations working as San Francisco Rising summarized these complaints: 

There's nowhere in the new map where Black voters live in enough of a cluster to be easily influential -- because there aren't enough Black San Franciscans remaining to constitute such an area. That's mighty damning, but it is not a problem with redistricting.

I feel a bit disloyal saying this, but I'm not convinced the new lines will change city politics as much as some might fear -- or hope. 

For a political point of view, the biggest deal here is excising the Inner Sunset, a quite progressive area, from District 5 and dumping it into District 7, much richer and more "moderate" turf. Likewise cutting Cole Valley (generally progressive) out of District 5 and adding it to District 8 (more and increasingly "moderate"). The new District 5, with the Tenderloin added in, looks poorer and likely less likely to vote at a high rate -- but maybe not. District 6 had gained a lot of new population and had to be shrunk and reconfigured. We won't know until there have been some elections how the new residents lean in the Mission Bay area. 

But in general, the old map held up surprisingly well. In general, the same neighborhoods will be voting with the same neighborhoods, so existing coalitions and alliances will continue to make sense. 

Electing supervisors by districts will continue to have the same advantages it has had as long as we've used it: energetic candidates who do the work to embed their campaigns in the life of their districts can break through, despite all the big money corrupting city politics. We see that today in District 4, new and old, where a very conservative area elects a progressive supervisor. This sort of thing is not easy, but it remains possible.

If we want more progressive supervisors, we need strong principled candidates who can dialogue with the competing communities and interests that make up their districts. Being a San Francisco politician is not for sissies.

Monday, May 02, 2022

May Day in the Mission

The small, enthusiastic crowd assembling at 24th Street to march to join the main festivities at Civic Center reminded me how much I love my neighborhood.

San Francisco's quite powerful established unions -- teachers, nurses, city employees, longshoremen -- were elsewhere. And more power to 'em. This crowd was made up of the sort of workers who for many years organized labor ignored: domestic workers, childcare workers, health aides, restaurant workers, undocumented casual laborers -- the service economy working class. 

Most were immigrants. Quite likely, they brought a broad vision of May Day with them from elsewhere: a May Day that takes up all the ills of their lives and propounds the general welfare as the duty of the state. The predominant language seemed to be Spanish, though the young man above was standing up for a Filipino political party.

 
The Mission has no truck with the immigration authorities.
 
They assume a decent society would provide health care accessible to all. 
 
Students want respect -- and debt cancellation. Isn't the job of a decent society educate its members?

There were even a few Zapatistas.

 
I was surprised by how nearly universal mask-wearing seemed to be in this crowd. I generally don't wear one outside, but pretty much everyone here did. So I did too. Perhaps these are people accustomed to having to wear masks at work or school? We have demanded this from "essential workers" for two long years.

I suspect this young drummer is going to remember marching on May Day fondly. 

A sprinkling of ideological leftists wandered the edges of the crowd, trying and failing to engage people with their newspapers. What would the Mission be without the last living Trotskyists?