Monday, February 28, 2022

Making war apples into peace oranges ...

Bill McKibben (climate educator and Methodist Sunday School teacher) is promoting a plan to 1) help Europe deal with a likely cut off of heating gas supplies in response to Russia's Ukraine invasion and 2) assist the transition we all need away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable electric power.

Here's his plan ... heavily edited for length.

Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom

... But [Europe] need cower no longer. New technology—affordable and workable—means Europeans can heat their homes with electricity instead of gas. And if we wanted to we could—before next winter comes—help enormously in this task. President Biden should immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to get American manufacturers to start producing electric heat pumps in quantity, so we can ship them to Europe where they can be installed in time to dramatically lessen Putin’s power. The most recent estimates from Europe I’ve seen is that the current electric grid could handle fifty million heat pumps. We’re not going to get that many over there in a year—but any large number hacks away at Putin’s power.

• The Defense Production Act allows this to happen without having to convince the obstructionists in our Congress....

• If manufacturers had a guaranteed federal contract, they could ramp up production quickly: perhaps by fifty percent in a month, and before the summer was out by far more. ...

• We could provide them at cost—or below cost—to Europeans, just as we did with the “lend-lease” program in the run-up to World War II. Europeans know how to install them—about a quarter of heating units installed across the continent last year were these electric heat pumps ....

• If America did this, it would jump start our own capacity ...

• It helps with the climate crisis too—some at least.
... Business won’t do this on its own. In World War II, the Chamber of Commerce (on the wrong side of virtually every important question for a century) opposed Lend-Lease; Henry Ford, the dominant industrialist of the day, was an America Firster (and anti-Semite). But FDR didn’t let that slow him down. ...

We can do this. Biden could make good on some of his energy promises and some of his manufacturing promises; we could peacefully punch Putin in the kidneys, doing him severe damage without raising the odds of nuclear war; and we could even start to head off the instability and war that will invariably accompany the climate crisis. Heat pumps for peace and freedom!

McKibben is actually talking to people in the bowels of the Biden administration. I heartily urge following McKibben's newsletter, The Crucial Years.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

A short life cut short

It's been seven years since San Francisco police officers shot Amilcar Perez Lopez six times in the back. The young Guatemalan laborer may never have known who the men in street clothes were who ran up yelling at him in English. His wounds showed that he was running away when they fired at short range.

His remittances were the main support of his extended family back home. More of his story here.

No charges were brought against his killers. They stood secure outside the law.

A small stalwart group of activists gathered on Folsom Street where he was killed Saturday night to remember Amilcar and his family.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Shards from Putin's war on both Ukraine and hope

The horror of this moment has literally rendered me a little dumbstruck. As a friend remarked on Thursday, my heart is heavy. In more time, I'll share my own thoughts. Today, thoughts of others, with a little commentary in italics.

Max Seddon is the Financial Times bureau chief in Moscow. He tweeted:"It’s remarkable how [Ukrainian President] Zelensky has finally grown into the role. When the US warned if Russia’s plans to invade, he was slammed by Ukrainians for not taking it seriously. But when the war became inevitable, Zelensky started playing the president on TV again – he’s a natural."

This short BBC clip conveys Zelensky's performance of heroism in his beleaguered role. 

Russian journalist Yana Pashaeva: "The main feelings of liberal Russians are concerns for Ukrainians—many of whom are our relatives and friends—shame for Putin, and helplessness." The shame and helplessness -- this is something citizens of the United States know when we have watched and protested our country big footing small countries.

Amie Ferris-Rotman, who reported from Russia for a decade tweets "Over 170 Russian journalists, including from Kremlin-run RT and TASS, have signed an open letter calling for an end to war with Ukraine." That's risk taking, as are peace demonstrations resulting in over 1000 arrests in Moscow.

Marc Santora, reporting for the New York Times from Lviv, Ukraine: "The civilian resistance in Ukraine received instructions on Saturday night from the military on how to help stop the Russian advance. They were told to destroy a road if they saw tanks passing along it, because fuel trucks were sure to follow; to burn a forest if they spotted Russian vehicles there; and to shoot out tires on military vehicles if they had rifles and could shoot from a distance. Above all, the defense ministry advised people to keep themselves safe but make life for Russian soldiers as difficult as possible." You have to assume Russia's army can crush these Ukrainians -- and that even amidst the adrenaline rush of war and patriotic feeling, they know it.

That cosmopolitan student of democracy, Yascha Mounk, concludes: "... the world’s dictators are taking off their masks. Autocratic leaders from Myanmar to Nicaragua no longer feel constrained by the need to maintain some semblance of democratic legitimacy or appease the State Department. And those dictators, like Vladimir Putin, who also have significant military might at their disposal are now trying to remake the world order in their image." The struggle for the possibility of humane civilization is indeed on the line. Of course it always was, but we are forced to notice.

Click to enlarge.
"A solid plurality of U.S. voters say they’re willing to face higher prices at home in order to sanction Moscow for invading Ukraine — and fewer than 1 in 10 oppose any sanctions"  according to pollsters Morning Consult. Let's hope we can unite enough to persist. That is our struggle.

Climate activist Bill McKibben knows how we ought to respond to Putin's war: "If you care about freedom, shut up about high gas prices. And put a solar panel on your roof." He's right! Putin's base state is a gas station with nukes -- if we, and especially Europe can replace fossil fuels, this is over. You can't eat nukes.

For many years, Joe Cirincione worked for international nuclear disarmament through the Ploughshares Fund. He speaks our appropriate fear in this moment.

Foreign policy maven David Rothkopf has worked for the last word here: "But usually big global conflicts have grey areas in which the irresolute or weak can hide, sometimes grey areas that make knowing who if anyone to support difficult. That's not the case here. Either you are for or against Putin's evil, for or against freedom & democracy." Yes.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Friday cat blogging

Janeway is enjoying her beauty sleep. Good for her.

Many emergencies around here -- an exploding dishwasher (what's with these machines anyway?), a unhoused woman's camp residue needing to be cleaned up outside on the sidewalk ...

And hanging over it all, sadness for the people of Ukraine ...

Blogging will resume when I get my breath.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Opinion research says ...

Here's some interesting polling relevant to the crisis created by Vladimir Putin's apparent intent to subjugate most or all of Ukraine. 

Economist data maven G. Elliott Morris contends that Republicans may have veered into feeling favorably toward Putin and Russia during fan boy Donald Trump's administration, but they have largely fallen back to earth. 

He cites Pew research.

But Morris discovered that more recent polling told a different story:

The Trump effect on Americans' attitudes towards Vladimir Putin has mostly worn off

Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign raised GOP favorability of Putin. But nearly 80% of Republicans, up from 50%, now say Russia is our enemy.

... opinions among Republicans have shifted dramatically towards those of the Democrats, and the population as a whole. Three in every four Americans who align themselves with the GOP now say Russia is our enemy, with only 10% saying they are our friend. ...

... After looking at updated polling data, Republicans and Democrats actually look to be pretty close to lock-step on Russia, at least at the mass level. And even while there are some differences between them, a majority of members in both parties favors the same general approach to dealing with Putin.

Apparently nobody told Fox News gabber Tucker Carlson, who The Bulwark's William Saletan likens to the 1930's American Hitler lover radio sermonizer Charles Coughlin.

Eighty years ago, when a dictator rose to power in Europe and invaded his neighbors, he found an ally in the United States. The dictator was Adolf Hitler, and his ally was Charles Coughlin, a popular radio host. Coughlin belittled democracy, defended the Nazis, and opposed America’s entry into the war, arguing that the movement to enlist the United States was a conspiracy on behalf of a sinister minority: Jews.

All too familiar. The old pattern was that, when push came to shove, these demagogues lost their appeal. Does the declining pseudo-democracy in the USofA still have the internal strength to slough off yet another round of homegrown fascists? To the horror of our right wing, I suspect this is a struggle in which newer immigrant citizens may play a wise role. Many recognize these charlatans all too clearly.

UPDATE: as the rockets strike Kviv and other Ukrainian cities, Colonel Alexander Vindman, immigrant American, makes the case against fascist sympathizers like Carlson in this tweet:

No one wants war. I’ve seen war & can envision the human toll & the geopolitical catastrophe that will ensue. The way we prevent war is by defending U.S. interests & values. What you don’t appreciate is that this country is wonderful, it’s the greatest country in the World.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Ukrainians on the home front

The Trumpist faction in the Republican party -- that is, most of them, especially the adherents of white nationalism -- are coming out loud and clear against President Biden's effort to deter further attacks on Ukraine by the Russians.

It seems odd, but it is a fact. Here's candidate JD Vance stumping for the GOP Senate nomination in Ohio:

As the prospect of a ground war hangs over Ukraine, Ohio Senate hopeful JD Vance said he doesn’t "really care what happens to Ukraine, one way or the other."
And here's the cult leader himself, speaking in his usual incoherent fashion on a podcast:
“Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump said. “So Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’” 
Trump said Putin will now “go in” to Ukraine “and be a peacekeeper.” 
“That’s strongest peace force … We could use that on our southern border,” he said. “That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy … I know him very well. Very, very well.”
GOPers seem to have chosen a side and it's not self-determination for Ukraine.

• • •

Back in the day ...
I've written before that my first awareness of a place named Ukraine occurred growing up in proximity to a large population of eastern European immigrants in Buffalo, New York in the 1950s and '60s. Their urgent cry and determined picket lines were deployed again any politician who failed to speak out loudly against the oppression of their homelands. They were not quiet about their demands -- the defenders of "Captive Nations" could be counted on to be disruptive if they judged the speaker too inclined to appeasement. 

I wonder, do the descendants of these urgent protesters still feel that visceral fear of dictatorship coming from Russia? These communities seem socially conservative -- but not likely to put up with any appeasement.

And in some states and communities, the numbers of citizens of Ukrainian origin are not insignificant. 

As of the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 892,922 Americans of full or partial Ukrainian descent. Notably:

• In Pennsylvania: 122,291, including more than 5 percent of the population in 14 jurisdictions.
• In Vance's Ohio: 48,905, many clustered near the Pennsylvania border.
These are numbers large enough to be electorally significant in a close contest. 

And you wouldn't want these folks mad at you. Those old time Captive Nations agitators could come out in force these days -- condemning Republican appeasers. And also demanding Democrats do more to protect their relatives. These were never polite protesters.

Putin's war may have blowback yet on the home front.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Rumors of war

The sun is shining; the sky is clear; and for many, it's a U.S. holiday.

Yet today the world totters on the brink of a major European war -- or maybe nothing will happen ...

Most of the world is a mystery to us here, sitting oblivious on our huge continent, separated by oceans from most other centers of humanity. Unless we actively trace our origins to some former homeland across the seas, we usually know little of the wide world -- and don't have to. (In this, we are somewhat like China through most of its history.)

We don't even nod toward understanding that mysterious land called Ukraine. For most people in the United States -- for my generation -- the area it encompasses went dark for us during the last 45 years of the Soviet Union. It just wasn't there, except perhaps in a few enclaves in U.S. cities where refugees landed. (Buffalo, where I grew up, was one of those, but that doesn't mean I knew anything about Ukraine.)

Professor Timothy Snyder has put his life into studying the formation of modern eastern Europe. He has written a very short pre-primer on the history of Ukraine in broad strokes for the previously uninformed. It is an ancient, tangled story. Here's a teaser:

The histories of Ukraine and Russia are of course related, via the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire, and via Orthodox religion, and much else. The modern Ukrainian and Russian nations are both still in formation, and entanglements between them are to be expected, now and into the future.

But Russia is, in its early expansion and contemporary geography, a country deeply connected to Asia; this is not true of Ukraine.

The history of Kyiv and surrounding lands embraces certain European trends that are less pronounced in Russia. 

Poland and Lithuania and the Jews are indispensable referents for any account of the Ukrainian past. 

Ukraine cannot be understood without the European factors of expansive Lithuania and Poland, of renaissance, of reformation, of national revival, of attempts at national statehood.  The landmarks of the world wars are planted deeply in both countries, but especially so in Ukraine. 

... The myth of eternal brotherhood, now offered in bad faith by the Russian president, must be understood in the categories of politics rather than history.  But a little bit of history can help us to see the bad faith, and to understand the politics.

I hope this sharing link works to Snyder's simple, brief essay: Kviv's Ancient Normality. You want to read it and it won't overwhelm.

Our country is enmeshed in what may be a further bloody conflict in yet another place about which we are largely uninformed. Yes, Joe Biden says he won't send in the Marines -- and I believe he believes himself. But it seems folly to remain unconcerned.

That democracy which so many of us feel we are fighting to preserve is eroded when ignorance forces us to acquiesce without reflection on the decisions of leaders and security spooks. Snyder's short essay is one gateway to more responsible citizenship.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Damn lies and statistics

Washington Post politics and data writer Philip Bump has done a terrific job of showing how politicians exaggerate crime statistics when goosing anxiety suits their purposes. In a newsletter that came with my Wapo subscription (sorry, no direct link available), he writes:

[New York Mayor Eric Adams] was presenting his administration's anticipated budget and, as part of that, made the case that the city needed to make investments necessary to combat rising crime.

So Bump shows Adams' chart:

Click to enlarge
Now that looks scary!

But note how relatively small the increments in the left axis are, running from 92,000 to 104,000 offenses.

Bump offers another way to visualize the same data that he thinks is more realistic -- or at least far less alarmist.

Click to enlarge
When the left axis starts from zero -- wouldn't we love zero felony offenses? -- rising to 120,000, the increase looks much less dire, only 7.5 percent over previous year.

Being aware of what's really going on in charts about increasing felonies is going to be politically important in the coming year. Republicans are bound and determined to scream "RISING CRIME" whether statistics support that conclusion, or do not, or show something more nuanced.

Wariness about inflammatory howls claiming rising crime are going to be especially important in San Francisco where much of the moneyed establishment and supporters of the police union are out to recall our elected District Attorney, Chesa Boudin. Beware.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

A Never Again memory for the United States

This is the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which led to the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II, including approximately 80,000 American citizens. 

The photographer Dorothea Lange captured this shameful episode:

After Pearl Harbor, it was not crazy to be afraid. But this travesty should remind us that even well-grounded fears can render us monsters.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Friday cat blogging: what's your supply chain bottleneck?

Unexpected difficulties with acquiring products we depend on keep cropping up in our almost post-pandemic world. 

One of the odder shortages has been of the pellets which form the basis of Janeway's incredibly simple litter box system. They seem to be tiny rocks, extruded in some industrial process, perhaps treated to serve as desiccants. (The litter system is a wonderful triumph of technological innovation, genuinely satisfactory to both cats and humans, though wasteful.) Like this:

For several months, these were unavailable. Then they became unexpectedly theoretically available, but for twice the price. Then the seller cancelled the order, oops ... no supply.

We tried some similarly shaped pine product pellets. Suffice to say, Janeway's effluvia reduced these to nasty dust.

And then unexpectedly, the pellets came back, with only a small price increase. Who knows?

What has been your weirdest supply problem? Tell me in the comments.

• • •

Meanwhile Janeway, confident that we'll take care of her necessary business, enjoys a favored perch.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Time for a schools rant

San Franciscans have recalled three of our school board members and our more conservative friends are gloating. Here's a sample from Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark:

The Lessons of San Francisco: It's possible to be too woke for the wokesters ... there are flashing red warning signs about racial identity politics, historical erasure, and the attack on merit-based selection in schools. ... While board members were busy striking poses, the kids were suffering and parents were incensed.

I think of Charlie Sykes as a very significant ally in the great struggle of our times -- the ongoing struggle to preserve democracy in this dis-United States. But he and his comrades understand very little about San Francisco public schools and their governance, so they are over-interpreting the school board recall.

The job from which three board members have been ejected is inherently dysfunctional, as are our public schools and perhaps the city itself. Let's dig a bit:

• The school board has been composed of seven members, elected for four year terms citywide.

• These campaigns are expensive and offer little to the winners except slightly higher citywide name recognition.  For too many school board members, a seat is just a political stepping stone. (There have long been honorable exceptions -- but the committed ones are exceptions.)

• The job is essentially unpaid, offering a mere $6000 a year -- so members all need other jobs.

• Doing the job is very demanding. I once lived in the same household with a member. She received several pounds of paper by courier every day from the schools' professional administrators. She was expected to read and absorb it all -- you can guess what happened to most of it.

• A very high percentage of the voters who elect these school board members do not have children in the public schools. What do they (we) know? Children of all ages are only 13 percent of city residents. Many voters are childless -- or among the preponderance of white residents who, even if they have children, have left the public schools.

• The actual running of the system is accomplished by professional management hired by the board. In recent years, our public schools have a lousy record of attracting a long term, committed superintendents. This is not a good job, though maybe (like the board) a stepping stone.

• The school buildings are old, sometimes crumbling, and the system is broke physically and financially. SFPD loses students every year as families find they can't afford the city. With the students goes the state funding on which the system relies.

 • Most of the teachers are doing their best, but they have a hella tough job in a crumbling system. They can't afford to live here any more than their students' families can. Their union fights aggressively to save the teachers from being blamed for the general mess and is a political power house. This is a major factor in the situation of the elected board members -- they are both management and supplicants.

• Despite decades of stratagems, all unpopular and many burdensome to parents, the city has failed to integrate its schools. At the higher grades, there aren't enough white students to make much of a difference. So "integration" is trying to mix together students from various racial and immigrant communities. This has always crashed into the cultural reality that many Asian-origin and especially Chinese families cling to the public schools as the necessary entryway to good lives. They care a lot and very specifically about their kids' experience. Although individuals certainly differ, many Black and Latinx families are less future-oriented and less inclined to fight education battles collectively as communities. This can create explosive situations -- and does.

So what does the recall reveal? Not much. Some incumbent school board members failed at their impossible job of keeping the volatile ship on an even keel -- and then there was a pandemic. And everything got worse.

I'm not upset that three of these members got booted. I remain upset that this rich city with generally decent values can't manage to run a better public school system that works somehow for students, teachers, and all communities. I don't claim to know how to get there. The successful recall should mean something changes. Let's hope whatever the new iteration looks like, it's better.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Ukraine: let's not do this again ...

Finally somebody has said something I find sensible about the multi-faceted crisis that goes by label "Ukraine." I could have said "Russian imperialism," or "post-Soviet nationalism," or "European Union growing pains," or "Autocracy v. Liberal Democracy," or "U.S. imperial decline," but for now I'll stick with simply with one word: Ukraine. There's a lot to understand and unpack there, and it's far beyond my knowledge.

But I resonate with much of what Michael Tomasky offered in in The New Republic [my emphasis]:

... while there’s a lot we don’t yet know, a clear bottom line for the Biden administration has been etched: Don’t go to war. Period. 
If today’s news turns out to be a temporary respite—or a trick—and Russia does invade, cable news will be a nonstop source of images of the invasion for a few days at least. Russian atrocities and deaths of Ukrainian civilians will be emphasized. American neocons and certain Senate front men thereof, notably Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Marco Rubio—who’s pushing aggression when he’s not apologizing for Donald Trump’s crimes—will get a lot of air time. This last point, incidentally, is one of the key ways in which the mainstream media are failing democracy: If a person can give good blather on foreign policy, TV will anoint that person as an expert, even if he’s gotten everything wrong for a decade or two. ... 
... history records no [U.S. military interventions that were] smashing successes that I can remember. There were, instead, the disastrous quagmires in Vietnam and Iraq. And even most of the interventions that were “successes” from a military or intelligence point of view turned out to be disastrous in a broader sense. We engineered a quick coup in Iran in 1954; what happened next? We installed a ruthless pro-American regime that the people finally expelled in 1979, which was replaced in turn with a ruthless anti-American regime that neocon belligerence has helped to transform into a regional, if not global, power—perhaps soon with nuclear weapons capability. ... 
... Getting militarily involved in Ukraine means getting into a war with Russia, crossing the uncrossable Cold War lines that threatened nuclear annihilation. Maybe Putin will back down. But even if he doesn’t, the fight here is solely economic. If Biden once aspired to bring Ukraine into NATO, he gets the situation now. If Putin does go in, and the war caucus starts trying to whip the country into a frenzy, [Biden] had better stick to his nonguns.

Biden has been around enough ugly blocks to know that he can't expect any lasting popular support at home for getting into a direct military confrontation in Eastern Europe. 

It's not hard to be sympathetic toward those Ukrainians who urgently want to become more European. And the U.S. probably owes them at least some reparations for afflicting them with that sleazy, used political consultant, Paul Manafort, whose wiles helped to impose a Russian puppet back in 2010. And there was much to admire (and some things to fear) in the Maidan uprising that tossed that strongman back to Moscow in 2014, leading to the current government structure. But hey, Ukrainians and Europeans are going to have to untangle this as best they can. 

It's unlikely that deep U.S. involvement here can do good. Our track record stinks.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

What are the science nerds going to come up with next?

On the indispensable Popular Information substack, Judd Legum and friends report that an awful lot of corporate pledges to work toward "net zero" deserve Zero Credibility.

Corporations want the public to know that they take the climate crisis seriously. Most major corporations have taken a public "climate pledge," promising to reach "net zero" carbon emissions by a future date. ... As a concept, climate pledges are appealing. ... there is no "sustainable" rate of CO2 emissions. By pledging to reach "net zero" emissions by 2040 or earlier, corporations are aligning their companies with science. ...

The NewClimate Institute recently released a report that evaluates the climate pledges of 25 multinational corporations. The results are not encouraging. Specifically, while all 25 companies have pledged to reach "net zero," they've collectively made specific commitments to reduce just 20% of their current carbon footprint by 2040. 12 of the 25 companies have made no specific carbon emissions reductions whatsoever.

Maybe all this corporate feel-good posturing will do some good. In the struggle toward a sustainable climate, every little reduction in fossil fuel pollution helps -- a little. It's probable that these pledges can give climate hawks additional angles from which to goose the corporate behemoths to do better.

But it also seems possible that techno innovators are making strides which might change the sustainability arena. We've come to understand that to keep warming caused by CO2 under limits, we need to Electrify Everything. If we're to switch from coal and gas to renewable power from sun and wind, we need sustainable technology to electrify. We need new, bigger, and different batteries.

Here's a battery innovation story that's more than feel-good posturing.

No more mining rare earths in the Congo with slave labor for these guys. There's innovation here that just might work out.

It's election day in San Francisco

On the ballot, recall of three school board members and the contest for a state Assembly seat. (I'm with David Campos.)

We were all sent ballots a couple of weeks ago. It will be interesting how many of us bother to turn them in.

Monday, February 14, 2022

A season of chaos

During the Trump administration, frequently I felt all that was left to say was "the cruelty is the point." (H/t Adam Server.) As I look at the current Trump/Bannon interval, I fear what needs to be said is "the chaos is the point."

A lot of people, mostly white men, feel massively aggrieved by a seemingly endless pandemic, an economic system in which they sit in a precarious place (if any place), and broad expansion of who matters in this pseudo-democracy (something more like all of us, not just them). So we get both 1/6 and the truckers fouling up Ottawa.

Timothy Snyder is perceptive in The Winter Sieges of North American Capitols.

... the deepest similarity was that the cause of the protestors made no sense.  The Americans who stormed the Capitol last January purported to believe that Trump had won an election that he lost.  There was no evidence of this; what is more, there was no logic: if the Democrats really stole elections, surely they would have arranged comfortable majorities for themselves in the House of Representatives and the Senate.   
The Canadian trucker protest plumbs similar depths of unreason. The ostensible pretext for the "Freedom Caravan," the use of trucks from around the country to disable Ottawa, was the need for Canadian truckers to be vaccinated before they enter the United States.  But this is not something over which anyone in Ottawa actually has control.  ... But this senselessness, it seems, is part of the point.  Making demands that cannot be met makes it hard to bring the chaos to an end.
Snyder blames the internet -- but media which enable communication of feelings more than thought are just a tool. 

Neither of these events attract majority approval. Though most Republicans believe Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election, 62 percent of us still believe the insurrection was an effort to overturn a valid vote, not the Republican National Committee's "legitimate political discourse." Most Canadians are NOT on team trucker according to The Grid

The protests are not organized by Canadian trucking unions, the largest of which has come out against the protests. They also do not appear to reflect the values of most Canadians or most Canadian truckers: More than 80 percent of the Canadian public is vaccinated, including almost 90 percent of truckers, according to Canada’s minister of transport.
A hack of the GoSendMe "Christian" fund raising site which is supporting the Canadian trucker protest revealed that the largest part of the cash support is coming across the blockaded border -- from MAGAs in the United States.

I blame political leaders who see personal advantage in fomenting chaos. Trump himself of course -- what other power has he got? But the hangers-on are leaping into the fray.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis -- the aspiring GOPer presidential hopeful who wants election police to preside over voting -- is all in with the Ottawa protesters. He thinks he's got a winning pitch with this sticker:

Rand Paul has charged out front on weaponizing the pain, as has been his family's business for a couple of generations.

"I’m all for it," said [Senator Rand] Paul, a vocal critic of masking and vaccine mandates. "Civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in our country, from slavery to civil rights to you name it. Peaceful protest, clog things up, make people think about the mandates. ... I hope the truckers do come to America, and I hope they clog up cities."
I'm feeling for the residents of Ottawa -- a quiet, almost staid, small city. Here's one reaction from some native Ottawans:
The Unitarian writer John Pavlovitz catches what those of us struggling for some minimal sanity are up against:

The fatigue of decent humans is the plan of bad people: inundate us with a million tiny crises, assail us with countless daily culture war battles, and batter us with endless legislative assaults—until we are gradually crushed beneath the weight of it all.

Yes, there are bad people manipulating painful feelings. And if we want to live in a more sane polity, we can but keep on keeping on.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Almost no comment ...

Click to enlarge.
Look who is still speaking up to prevent codification of women's equal rights under alaw. That would be Rob Portman (R-Ohio, retiring), Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin, up for reelection), and Mitt (R-Utah). Somehow it's always the old white guys who lead the anti-woman pack.

More here.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Saturday scenes: men at play

You can see them almost everyday on San Francisco's Embarcadero.

The aim is to fly.
The setting is magnificent.

Though they don't mind passing photographers, I think it's fair to conclude they are performing for each.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, February 11, 2022

An anachronistic empire of slave labor

My apprehension of World War II is colored by ancestry, though I was not born until shortly after. That is, I grew up knowing that "The War," meaning the war in Europe to defeat fascism and Nazism, was the central and defining experience of my mother's life. Perhaps the 9/11 attacks played a similar role in some current generations' lives -- an historical experience which colors deeply all that comes after.

My mother experienced The War as an extended crisis. Unusually for her class and location -- I think because she encountered emigre Germans, refugees from the Nazis -- she viewed Hitler as a threat not only to her Jewish and German friends, but also to her own way of life. When I read Erik Larson's In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, I realized that she was almost certainly in the audience for the diplomat William E. Dodd's anti-Nazi speaking tour after he returned from Germany.

What made The War such a long, draining crisis for people like my mother was that her fellow citizens didn't see the threat coming or didn't want to look. Mother was a moderate Republican; she was out of phase with her peers, agitating against German expansionism throughout the 1930's, watching in horror as Hitler absorbed Austria and Czechoslovakia, listening on the radio to the fall of France to Hitler's armies, and to the bombing of London. "America First" politicians were slow to take up what she feared was a uncertain fight to preserve human decency. It was an agonizing time to be her kind of engaged citizen. Was Nazi barbarism about to overrun everything?

The central insight of economic historian Adam Tooze's The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy was that this terror was somewhat misplaced. Hitler's terrible Aryan empire never had a chance against the productive capacity of American arms, shipped first to Britain and later to the Soviet Union. In fact, even a Russia degraded by vicious Stalinist purges and erratic central planning, had the economic capacity to resist and defeat the Germans. The German state was a second rate economic power that Nazis tried to organize to overshoot its actual strength -- and its eventual collapse was all but inevitable.

For all the misery and murder, barbarity and brutality, Nazism was not going to win The War or the future. I found Tooze's book fascinating, but this may be an acquired taste. He proves his case in vast detail and summarizes in broad strokes.

Once Germany had engaged both Britain and the Soviet Union and once the United States threw its weight fully into the scales, the odds against the Third Reich were bound to be overwhelming. In 1941, before the German invasion of the Soviet Union but also before the American economy hit full stride, the combined GDP of Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States exceeded that of Germany by a factor of 4.36 to 1. Similarly, in the 1930s the combined steel output of Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States had been almost exactly four times greater than that of Germany and that at a time when American industry was well short of its productive peak. By 1944 the ratio of steel output, even if we add the output of Belgium, France and Poland to the German side, was 4.5 to 1 against Germany. What Germany faced by 1944 was simply the crushing material superiority that German strategists had always feared.
Tooze demands recognition that, in addition to Nazism's ideological and all-too-successful attempt to exterminate Europe's Jews, German economic planning was also based on starving or murdering the continent's Slavic people's to make room for German imperial expansion. The Nazis were envious of French and British colonial empires and looked for potential slave labor of their own.
The point is not that Germany’s imperialism in Eastern Europe represented a regression into atavistic barbarism. The Nazi programme of genocide was certainly barbaric. But, as we have seen, it was tied to an ambitious project of colonial settlement and violent modernization. The point is not that Nazi racism was atavistic. The point is that it was anachronistic. ... 
[Germany's invasion of Russia] was a belated and perverse outgrowth of a European tradition of colonial conquest and settlement, a tradition that was not yet fully aware of its own obsolescence. ... 
... By the 1940s, the nineteenth-century map of economic and military power, centred on the established states of Western Europe, no longer existed. This was the most basic fallacy underpinning the effort by the Third Reich to create an empire in the East. America’s emergence as an economic superpower on the one hand and the explosive development of the Soviet Union on the other had fundamentally altered the balance of global power. ... 
... Whereas the incarceration of more and more potential workers in murderous concentration camps was clearly irrational from the point of view of the overall war effort, from the point of view of the individual employer the concentration camps were often a godsend. Even in 1944, Himmler was still able to provide new workers. Though these people were quickly worn out, the advantage of the SS was precisely that they were able to offer their industrial clients an apparently limitless flow of new inmates.
Tooze concludes that it is inadequate to concentrate entirely on the Nazi's ideological intent; the economic order they aspired to impose was almost equally murderous.
Obviously, ideology was decisive in the last instance, especially in relation to the Judaeocide. There could be no other reason for killing one group with such awful thoroughness. The assumption of a racial struggle was an unalterable given in the Nazi worldview. On the other hand, it is also clear that, as the war ground on, sustaining the war effort increasingly came to override every other preoccupation of Hitler’s regime.
I found this book broadening. As far as I can tell, Tooze's estimation of the Nazism's essential economic weakness is now generally accepted by historians, a change in emphasis from previous accounts. We see differently as we move farther away in time. My mother wouldn't have accepted Tooze's thesis for a minute -- the danger seemed too immediate.

Friday cat blogging

In general, Janeway pays no attention to the little men on the screen. I guess she can see something, but it is seldom of any interest.

Perhaps those tiger-striped helmets caught her attention? In any case, GO BENGALS!

Thursday, February 10, 2022

On adding more trouble to existing trouble

I can't resist commenting on this news item: Delta Air Lines wants to make disruptive customers eligible for an FBI watch list that keeps suspected terrorists off flights.

Really?? The "no fly" list and the "terrorist watch" lists have been an impenetrable, arbitrary, biased morass since they were expanded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The government won't reveal who is on these lists, how a person might get off them -- essentially anything that might uphold a personal "right to travel."

Adding airline customers who act out on flights would only make a dubious instrument that even less creditable and equitable.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg knows a questionable idea when he encounters one:

“Obviously, there are enormous implications in terms of civil liberties, in terms of how you administer something like that. I mean even when it was over terrorism, it was not a simple thing to set up.”
I understand an airline might want to toss this hot potato off to the feds, but I doubt they'll pick it up. Unless perhaps one of these traveling idiots assaults a powerful Senator. Bashing a flight attendant is one thing; messing with a pol, another thing.

Perhaps Buttigieg's department can work through the Federal Aviation Administration to make it easier for airlines to bring criminal charges against unruly passengers. It's not only good business to keep flights peaceful -- it should also be enforceable law.

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

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Shards from the Embattled Republic

An occasional list of links to provoking commentary. Some annotated by me.  

Johnathan Capehart: "... who gets lost in all this: Black parents and their children. All because some White people can’t bear feeling 'uncomfortable' learning about 'divisive' subjects. They want a gauzy, feel-good version of history that blinds them to the impact such a mythology has on events unfolding now. Meanwhile, Black people have to live with the real-life consequences of this blissful ignorance." Wouldn't want poor suffering White parents to have sad feelings ...

Economic historian Adam Tooze: "... one of the most profound hypocrisies in conventional talk about inflation [is] the asymmetrical treatment of the price of labour i.e. wages. If a central bank is truly committed to stabilizing the general price level, then it has no business lecturing any one particular actor on the need for restraint. Asking for wage restraint is literally asking for an allocative effect, one-sidedly, in favor of employers." You might guess Tooze is a Brit as well as an esteemed economist, more House of Commons question-time than Very Serious Expert.

Roxanne Gay: "When we are not free to express ourselves, when we can be thrown in jail or even lose our lives for speaking freely, that is censorship. When we say, as a society, that bigotry and misinformation are unacceptable, and that people who espouse those ideas don’t deserve access to significant platforms, that’s curation." Ms. Gay makes mincemeat of whining about "cancel culture."

Bill McKibben: "Provocation, of course, is the art form of our age, as music was of the 1960s and 1970s. Trolling is what we call it now, and the constant search for buttons to push has proved profitable—it’s what made Rush Limbaugh a fortune,  and what gets any obnoxious dude on Twitter enough attention to keep him preening." Interesting comparison. I do remember when you knew which side people were on if they liked Country Joe.

JVL at The Bulwark: "You get people like Susan Collins who would never consider herself a MAGA person and believes that she’s on the side of democracy. But she’s always been a Good Republican. She doesn’t want to rock the boat. And so she tells herself that everything will be fine. No need to do anything drastic or uncomfortable. Tomorrow will be just like yesterday. Everything is fine. And then you wake up one morning and things aren’t fine." Nobody is sharper at characterizing Republicans who are enabling fascism than a Never-Trumper.

Charles Blow: "Consciously including racial groups can be one of the most effective reparative remedies for centuries of racial exclusion." That's the true defense of much maligned affirmative action; it puts society on a path toward more justice.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser: "Today we’re talking about the filibuster, but consider this: We wouldn’t even be in this situation if Washington, D.C., had two senators—the two senators we deserve." Lest we forget the injustice done to nearly 700,000 citizens of the capitol city.

Kevin Drum: "If I'm tired or stressed out, my mood worsens. This is precisely when I need to be most careful about making decisions or concluding that everything is, in fact, hopeless. The combination of COVID-19 and the Trumpian takeover of American politics is obviously something that's produced a lot of tiredness and stress. So beware of your feelings. It's likely that democracy isn't really doomed; that America isn't sliding down a rat hole; that Russia and China aren't poised to take over the world; and that conservatives won't rule the country forever. It may feel that way sometimes, but that's just your downtrodden brain chemistry talking. Things are probably better than you think." Let's hope he's right. He's not even sure himself.

Ben Rhodes: "... The opportunity to save a multiracial, multiethnic democracy should be approached as a defiant and joyful enterprise—a source of unity and community at a time when we badly need both." Or perhaps we can delight that we are undertaking a bold, novel  journey together, if only we persist.

Eugene Robinson: "... seeing the GOP as some kind of unstoppable juggernaut is wrong. It’s more like a group of hostages and hostage-takers, united only in a quest for power, not knowing or caring why." We are looking at fear and weakness masquerading as strength.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Polarization puzzlement

I've been seeing an awful lot of doctors lately. So this chart grabbed my interest:

As always, click to enlarge.
The data seem to date from 2016. Or perhaps earlier. 

Looks like the more lucrative specialties lean toward the party of the plutocrats ...

One wonders -- might even some surgeons, anesthesiologists, and urologists have shifted their political leanings since then? Might doctors have been subject to what Matt Yglesias calls the "growing education polarization which renders every community of subject-matter experts left-leaning"?

Monday, February 07, 2022

This was "legitimate political discourse."

The Republican National Committee really did label the Trump mob's attempt to overturn the 2020 election by storming Congress an instance of "legitimate political discourse." So much for the will of a large majority of citizens.

Do we, the majority of us, care if our preferences as expressed in elections, matter? I believe, at root, most of us do care. This country's political system is creaky and usually unsatisfying, but most of us prefer it to unchecked governance by erratic, racist, narcissistic kleptocrats.

But we have to be organized to make our caring felt. 

A downloadable survey of The Plot to Steal the Presidency is available at the link. Highly recommended for its overview of what democracy is up against. This document envisions a parallel campaign alongside partisan election struggles that includes citizen activism to shore up fair election administration. Maybe campaigning for yet another Democrat seems just too uninspring ... think about volunteering for "election protection." I spent some time in 2020 on a phone line that helped people figure out how and where they could legally cast ballots and how to resolve any problems. This too seems a necessary and worthy activity ...

We will only lose democracy if we don't work to practice it.

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Something you can do for justice ...

San Francisco's University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit school, claims a high-minded mission. It advertises its commitment to and activism for social, racial, and economic justice on poles all around 24th St. and Mission.
But these admonitions ring hollow when you look beyond the nice words. They don't extend to the 600 part-time professors who teach close to half its classes and have been central to keeping USF running during the pandemic.

The Part Time Faculty Association (PTFA) has been in contract negotiations with the USF administration since July 2021. Although the University has been looking at an operating surplus of more than $26 million in 2021, their first offer was to cut the part-timers teachers' pay. When the news of the university's pandemic windfall came to light, management still refused to consider PTFA's extremely modest proposal for a 2% salary increase per year over the next two years. 
With inflation running above 7% per year, knowing they are sitting pretty financially, they are offering only a pay freeze which really amounts to a pay cut. And part timers still have hardly any advancement path regardless of qualifications and little job security.

Now the administration has simply stopped negotiating -- the PTFA has filed a complaint of "unfair labor practice" with the federal National Labor Relations Board.

Part time instructors should not have to beg for basic fairness and justice.

Please send a message to President Father Paul Fitzgerald and Provost Chinyere Oparah!
Ask them to do the right thing for part-time faculty at USF. Ask them to send their team back to the table and negotiate a fair contract! They need to hear from a broader community.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Gang violence

The San Francisco Police Department has decided it wants to take its batons and go home. 

And to use those batons as it chooses.

No more will the department abide by some namby-pamby agreement to allow the city's elected District Attorney to investigate, and if proper prosecute, when cops beat up citizens. The boys in blue will take care of their own. That's what Chief Scott's announcement last week that he'll leave a "memorandum of understanding" (MOU) with the DA's office amounts to.  

A cop is about to go on trial next week for beating up a man in 2019 near Fisherman's Wharf. The incident was captured on police body camera video. The victim had to have surgery for a broken leg and wrist; he was never charged with any crime. I guess the cop was delivering what he thought was rough street justice. Perhaps the beatdown was all in a days work for Officer Terrance Stangel, but our prosecutor thought otherwise, so a jury will decide.

The cops say a DA investigator working on the case failed to share every interview she had about the incident. The judge who is preparing to seat a jury has seen all the police and DA interviews and wonders what's the big deal.

Court transcripts show Judge Teresa Caffese asked several times for clarification on what evidence was exculpatory, but Hayashi did not provide sufficient details to satisfy her. Caffese stated that she felt the information in question was not exculpatory — it would not have exonerated Stangel nor changed the defense’s approach. The trial is set to commence on Monday.

It's hard not to conclude that SFPD brass and the police union are acting out to protect their own. This announcement that the SFPD intends reject cooperation with civilian oversight is a direct challenge to the rule of law.

It's a travesty that the police department requires an MOU to work with the properly elected prosecutor of the city of San Francisco. The cops work for the citizens of this city. Their job is to do what the elected government of the city orders, within the framework of criminal law. If they won't play, they are just a lawless gang. And should be replaced.

Our elected Public Defender Mano Raju spelled it out: 

Without this MOU in place, the SFPD will go back to policing themselves, which presents a clear conflict of interest that San Franciscans have long rejected by creating oversight bodies and mechanisms to provide transparency. For a department that still stops, searches, and inflicts violence disproportionately against Black, Latinx, and other marginalized communities, the public deserves at a minimum the transparency and protection that this agreement provided.

Chief Scott’s sudden announcement should alarm the public and everyone who has called for police reform in San Francisco and across the country. We can no longer permit the police to police themselves. The San Francisco Police Commission should assert its authority and act immediately to preserve independent oversight.

SFPD is acting as a gang that threatens public safety.

Friday, February 04, 2022

I have to wonder ...

Does their name help or hurt this construction company? Imagine it's a fine old family moniker, but nonetheless ...

Friday cat blogging

She's not a kitten any longer. She does still rule the roost.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

The world's longest recorded history

This discussion of Michael Shuman's Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World has to start with an apology: I read the audio book version without having a print copy on hand until afterward. If you are not familiar with the English renditions of Chinese names and dynasties (and I'm definitely not), much of what you hear is hard to hold on to. If my blurb convinces you look into this volume, get a print copy -- it's in libraries.

Shuman's premise is simple and very intellectually healthy:
There is no such thing as world history, at least one that holds the same meaning for everyone. Which world history is important to you depends on who you are, where you live and where you come from. ... Just as we in the West are products of our world history, the Chinese are a creation of theirs.
Just as we are steeped in vague notions of coming from a continuous civilization arising from Greece and Rome, adopting and adapting Christianity in Europe through the so-called Middle Ages, and extending Europe's known world by trade, imperialism, slavery, and the force of "civilized" arms, Chinese people live and breathe a confidence in a multi-millennial, uniquely civilized Chinese past.
... China is different from other empires [that have come and gone.] To a great degree it still exists. China, as a nation-state, is a version of previous, independent Chinese entities that formed in the same general geographic location. The Chinese political system, at its core, has proven remarkably resilient. ... At some periods, often long ones, China was broken into competing states or ruled by invading foreigners. ...Yet the most incredible aspect of China's political history is how often the empire was reassembled. ... If China wasn't unified, its political elite, again and again and again, wished it to be.
Rulers and invaders came and went, but a certain characteristics of a Confucian-inflected polity remained:
 ... the Chinese imperial order was an autocracy. There were no formal constraints on the authority of the emperor. ... Today... top leaders can do as they please, and party cadres, court justices, and civil servants will do as they are so ordered. ... Unlike those of us in the West, the Chinese cannot look back fondly on ancient republics. The political ideal throughout the millennia-long course of Chinese political development has been authoritarian monarchy. ... And as China rises on the world stage, it is bringing with it the baggage it has carried through its long historical journey -- both the honorable and the dishonorable.
Western barbarians (that's us) with their temporarily superior technology and efficiency breached the kingdom in the mid-19th century and Chinese found themselves calling their history into question. Elites wondered, what if these invaders were onto something? What if ...
Chinese civilization was, in fact, not superior. For thousands of years, confidence in their own culture had remained unshaken. The rise and fall of countless dynasties, the invasions of Turks, Jurchens, and Mongols, green-eyed beauties, Buddhist monks -- nothing shook the conviction that Chinese civilization was civilization. ... Now however, the Chinese ran smack into an alternative civilization, that owed nothing to China's own, believed itself to be superior, and had the guns, money and power to back its claims. The experience rattled the Chinese elite to its very bones ... at the beginning of the twentieth century, with China helplessly prostrate before the world's imperialists, [their] enduring confidence in this ancient system had been badly shaken. ...
Twentieth century China endured the collapse of the dynastic imperial authority, an aborted attempt at constitutionalism, the vicious Japanese invasion and occupation at mid-century, and the triumph another Western-inflected force, the Chinese Communist Party. The transitions were bloody and crazy making.

Many Chinese retreated into racial tribalism:
The Chinese had always believed themselves a superior civilization; now they began to perceive themselves as a superior race. The white race may have gotten the upper hand for the moment, the thinking went, but the Han Chinese with their thousands of years of civilization, were surely more advanced that those black, red, and brown peoples -- and of course the steppe Manchus. ... China's long distrust of foreigners was being brewed with hatred of the Manchus [who had imposed the last, failed imperial dynasty], bitterness toward the humiliations inflicted by Western powers, and emerging Western theories about natural selection into a potent stew of Han nationalism ... the [old] empire was seething with ideas, movements, and political and economic forces it had never confronted before.
Shuman sees China's present as a new and likely enduring recreation of the old Chinese civilization that thought itself the greatest and most significant in the world -- now on a global stage.
Deng Xiaoping's reopening of China was among the most momentous events of modern times. It was one of those pivotal hinges in human history, when the future course of our lives is altered forever. The stage was set for China to resurrect its traditional, central role in the world, along the way reestablishing the ancient trade connections of the Middle Kingdom and the other great civilizations, this time on a grander and more global scale than ever before. And through it all, the Chinese history of the world became ever more entangled with the West's. The world would never be the same. 
... Xi [Jinping] himself appears a reincarnation of the empire-building emperors of old. ... Like Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, he is confronting global challenges by strengthening his state and his own position at home and abroad. Similar to Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, he is capitalizing on the successes of his predecessors to stress the more expansive and universalistic aspects of China's worldview. But perhaps most of all, Xi is spiritual kin of the Ming Dynasty founder, the Hongwu emperor. Both introduced personalized rule to the collegial model that had prevailed before them. ... Xi characterizes himself as the champion of the Chinese nation after a century of humiliations by the Western Ocean barbarians and their allies. ... As we've seen, the Chinese have experienced periods of both great openness to foreigners and foreign ways, and eras of tremendous arrogance and distrust of outsiders. ... Now, under Xi, the pendulum is swinging once again ...
I wouldn't exactly call this book hostile to China -- but I would say that in trying to convey an unvarnished China-centric perspective on the country's relationship to the rest of the world and especially to the Western barbarians, Shuman doesn't smooth out any rough edges. 

There are plenty of other perspectives to read on the civilization of modern China which are much more nuanced. One I've appreciated is Ian Johnson's The Souls of China. I'm no judge of overall accuracy -- China too big and too old be easily reduced to any one historical perspective.