Tuesday, March 21, 2023

What's this "woke" stuff?

I've been trying for a couple of days to work up a post on "woke." Maybe I should just drop the effort, but instead I'll offer a sort of brain dump. Here goes, FWIW -- possibly not much.

For me, being "woke" connotes empathetic awareness of the feelings and life circumstances of other people. When practiced, it might lead to something like to politeness, curiosity, and striving "to be in love and charity" with our neighbors. That's both a lot -- and just the stuff of human life.

That set of connotations may underlie findings that seem to create consternation among political combatants:

According to a recent USA Today/Ipsos Poll, 56% of Americans surveyed say they think that being woke means “to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices”.

The same Guardian article by Arwa Mahdawi points out:

The term comes from African American Vernacular English and, originally, was broadly defined as being “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination”.

The term has somewhat escaped that origin context. As is so common with the Black experience in this country, other groups have repurposed the word to refer to additional conditions in which society renders people unseen -- and deserving of awakened attention. This strikes me as both a rip off and a form of cultural appreciation. Your mileage may vary.

As a white person who still, at 75, is often misgendered by oblivious retail clerks, I am viscerally aware that I have spent a lifetime wishing that people could be a little more "woke" to the person in front of them. Though having aged, I just figure they weren't paying attention when they make me male.

Meanwhile, as Molly Roberts observes watching the brouhaha over the "woke" (?!) Silicon Valley Bank:

Woke is the word these days, and conservatives are shouting it whenever they can — to the point that what exactly it’s supposed to mean, beyond “thing that I don’t like,” has become a mystery.
The best commentary on "woke" I've run across anywhere is this discussion between two smart lesbians coming from quite different histories. They decode what people say in Longwell's voter focus groups and by the end find themselves just talking personally about what "woke" has meant in their lives. Enjoy.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Hooray for brain drain

Insights by Stanford Business rightly touts the enormous contributions of immigrants to U.S. prosperity. 

I guess we knew that smart people want to come to this country. But the sheer magnitude of immigrant contributions to invention and entrepreneurial success are enormous.

The United States has long touted itself as a nation built by immigrants. Yet there has never been a precise measure of immigrants’ contribution to the country’s economic and technological progress. Around the time that President Donald Trump was moving to curb employment visas for skilled foreigners, economist Rebecca Diamond and a team of researchers set out to examine this unresolved question.

To find the answer, the researchers looked at the output of nearly 880,000 Americans who patented inventions between 1990 and 2016. They found that immigrants made an outsize contribution to innovation in the U.S. While they comprised 16% of inventors, immigrants were behind 23% of the patents issued over these years.

It wasn’t just a matter of quantity: The share of patents immigrants produced was slightly higher when weighted by the number of citations each patent received over the next three years, a key measure of their quality and utility. Moreover, immigrants were responsible for a quarter of the total economic value of patents granted in that period, as measured by the stock market’s reaction to new patents.

Obviously, Stanford and Silicon Valley focus on the large number of skilled inventors attracted here -- but despite everything -- despite Trump, Biden, and whatever other exclusionists rule the roost -- this country remains the desired destination for people with "get up and go" from across the planet. Even newcomer unskilled laborers are often the most capable of their families, off to seek a better life, however hard that may be. And we get the benefit.

For all our problems, a goodly quantity of people manage to bring their drive and their hopes to this country. You see some of this in Europe, but you sure don't see the global best and brightest trying to immigrate to China ... this is what we do here.

Yes, this is brain drain from across the globe. The only way to stop it -- short of walls and violence and cutting off our noses to spite our faces -- is to help other countries become equally attractive. That seems a long shot.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Michigan goes blue; Ohio stays red; Nevada splits the difference

Here's an interesting discussion of why Michigan and Ohio, states which might seem similar, have diverged politically since 2016. In that year, both voted for Donald Trump. By 2022, Michigan elected Democrats to state offices across the board, while Ohio elected Republicans to the U.S. Senate and statewide. The latter is now considered a solid "red state," while Michigan looks solidly "blue."

These are apparently demographically similar places, with only small differences:

Michigan and Ohio have similar white populations, 78% and 80%, respectively; Black populations, 14% and 12%; bachelor’s degree recipients, both 18%; people over 65, both 17%; median household incomes, both $59,000 in 2020 dollars; and workers belonging to unions, 13% and 12%.

The study's authors go on to discuss whether perhaps different voting laws shape different electorates. Michigan has put in place automatic voter registration through the DMV and election day registration. Ohio makes potential voters sign up a month in advance. Michigan's easier voting laws may make for increased participation.

According to the Michigan secretary of state’s official election results, there were 4.5 million total votes in the gubernatorial election, the highest office contested in 2022. Meanwhile in Ohio, the secretary of state reported 4.2 million total official votes cast for governor. ... The total number of voters in Ohio dropped by 295,466 between 2018 and 2022.
Well - maybe. But I have reservations, based having worked the election in Nevada in 2022. Under a Democratic governor and legislature, both elected in 2018, that state put in place election laws that do everything possible to make voting easy. Every Nevadan got a ballot in the mail, could mail it in or vote it in person as much as two weeks before election day, or register on election day if somehow they'd missed out on the mailing or at the DMV. 

And Nevada remained its deeply divided self in 2022, replacing its Democratic governor with a Republican, and re-electing a Democratic U.S. Senator, both by razor thin margins.

So very easy voting in Nevada (easier than in Michigan I think) wasn't enough to shape the partisan outcome.

The authors of the Michigan/Ohio comparison note one considerable discrepancy between but don't discuss it much:

Ohio voters were less likely to reside in a union household – 21% to 27% – and were much more likely to identify as Republicans, 41% to 32%.

Did the labor movement in Michigan get out the vote?

From what I saw in Nevada, it was the massive commitment of the hospitality union -- Culinary/UniteHERE -- to electing the Democrat that saved Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Union membership in Nevada is not so different than in the other two states, between 11 and 12%. But a determined, high functioning union sector can make a difference in outcomes. And, so far, union membership does keep a lot of Nevadans identifying as Democrats. 

Perhaps unions in Ohio, despite their nominal membership, are not doing the work of communicating the advantages of Democratic governance to their people. Or maybe, their members have irrevocably soured on messages from these unions. These study authors conclude that whatever is going on, it may not be irrevocable --"... writing off Ohio as a noncompetitive state may be premature." Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown will be testing this out in 2024.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Terrible memories, terrible crimes that are not forgotten

I can only say: at least the New York Times rightly situates its retrospective article on the United States' invasion of Iraq in a cemetery.

That war was a fraud and a crime from its outset. Iraqis died; Iraqis were made refugees in their own country and beyond; Iraqis are still physically insecure and impoverished by corruption in their own country where sectarian differences can still be deadly.

That war broke a generation of U.S. soldiers sent battle for incomprehensible, sometimes non-existent, ends.

That vicious, preposterous war of aggression ensures that much of the world disbelieves the United States and Europe when we decry Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Unsurprisingly, Americans are not popular:

“My opinion of the Americans is negative, because if someone comes and kills my family and I don’t have any power to fight them, it leaves a hatred,” [Waleed Dhahi, now 23,] said. “Of course life continues and we must start again. But I lost my family and that has affected me, and sometimes I wish I had died with them.”

Friday, March 17, 2023

Friday cat blogging

This seems a bit saccharine as pseudo-icons tend to be -- but fun. According to CatGenie:

March 17th is the feast day of one very special saint, who is often grossly overlooked by the history books. Her name is Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, and she’s the Patron Saint of… you guessed it: CATS. ...

So, who was Saint Gertrude? Well, born in 628 to a noble family in what is now modern day Belgium, your girl Gerty was one sassy lassie, as God-loving as she was headstrong. At the tender age of 10, when presented with the prospect of marriage to a duke, Gertrude set the record straight and insisted that she wasn’t ever gonna marry no duke. In fact, she wasn’t gonna marry no man at all, so jot that down, thank you very much.

Some time later, after the death of Gertrude’s father, Gertrude’s mother Itta shaved her daughter’s head in the “tonsure” style that monks often wear. Gertrude and Itta then travelled to Nivelles and established the Abbey of Nivelles, which served as a Benedictine nunnery. Later, it became a monastery for both nuns and Irish monks alike. A scholarly and charitable woman, Gertrude spent many years of her life as Abbess to the monastery, dedicating her time to helping the sick, the elderly, and the poor. This earned her a reputation as a patron saint of travellers, widows, and the mentally ill. Today, she is called upon to ward off rats, fever, and insanity....

... When someone wanted to get rid of a rat infestation, they called upon Saint Gertrude. As such, much of the iconography that surrounds Saint Gertrude includes little rats and mice at her feet. Did people in the Medieval times necessarily know that rats carried with them the Black Death? Weirdly enough, probably not. At least not for like, a while. Yikes.

In the 1980s, devoted Christian Gertrude-lovers took the leap from associating Gertrude as a rodent-banisher to a protector of cats (who, you know, are also rodent-banishers.) To quote Thomas J. Craughwell, “St. Gertrude is invoked against mice and rats, which has led cat lovers to assume that Gertrude was a cat person, and so the ideal patron of their favorite pet.”

Imagine the cats' response to this is something like "we don't need no stinkin' saint ... But you could put out more cat food ..."

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Where you gonna lay your head?

Last summer while working in Reno to re-elect a Democratic U.S. Senator, Erudite Partner and I found ourselves having to learn a lot about housing. 

For me, that meant scrambling for places for incoming canvassers, something that you might think would be easy in a tourist town still trying to find its feet after the pandemic. It was not easy. We ended up with a shifting variety of solutions: extended stay hotels (heavily booked), short term corporate apartment rentals (pricey and some of them just plain weird), and finally, rooms at a run-down but unionized casino. 

Kasa Archiv where some of us ended up living...definitely weird.
For the E.P., learning about housing was a matter of equipping our hard working canvassers to talk about an issue they quickly discovered mattered desperately to many of the infrequent, low income voters they were meeting at the doors. Yes, people cared about abortion rights and keeping crazies out of government (and gas prices which pushed them away from us), but whether they would be able to keep a place to live that they could afford was often their main issue. 

Reno had seem an influx from California during the pandemic; it is growing a tech-industrial economy that displaces the old time Nevadans. It was a frequent experience for our canvassers to knock on a door, only to learn that the voter had been evicted. Sometimes the address no longer existed, torn down to make way for expensive future condos. 

To the credit of the Culinary/UniteHERE in Nevada, the union has taken on Nevada's housing squeeze, using its hard-won political clout to lobby for rent controls and other fixes. What good is a union contract if the worker can't afford to live where their job is located?

2022 was not a good time to be a renter in Reno. E.P. has taken the lessons of Nevada nationwide in her new essay for the syndicator, Tom Englehart: Don't Try to Find a Home in Washington, D.C. Or Pretty Much Anywhere Else If You're a Renter. 

E.P. asserts there exist a menu of policy solutions that should help:

There is no single solution to the growing problem of unaffordable housing, but with political will and organizing action at the local, state, and federal levels it could be dealt with.

 Read all about it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

What did Ron DeSantis do at Guantanamo?

So anti-woke Florida bully-boy Governor Ron DeSantis (an aspiring Republican presidential nominee) has thrown down with the view that Russia's attempt to erase Ukraine and Ukrainians is just a "territorial dispute." Apparently he fears Donald Trump's Putin-love will upstage him unless he goes along. Kind of pathetic, but common behavior from people who only punch down.

If DeSantis prevails in his bid to lead the GOPers, there's a detail in his biography that will probably get more attention. As a newly minted Navy legal officer in 2006, DeSantis got an education in punching down at the U.S. gulag at Guantanamo. He doesn't talk about it much, but as part of his self-presentation as stand-up military guy, it will certainly draw at least some scrutiny.

It's not at all clear what DeSantis did at America's Cuban prison. He was there at a particularly bad time, when, interrogators frustrated because their captives didn't provide intelligence about al Qaeda (because the prisoners didn't have any) turned to brutal methods. Prisoners responded with a hunger strike -- having no other recourse to assert their humanity, they became willing to starve themselves. Official accounts say DeSantis filled a very junior paper pusher role; this makes sense. But the Florida BullDog, a muckraking online pub, passes on a story from a released detainee which adds to some color to DeSantis' Guantanamo tour.

Mansoor Adayfi, formerly detainee #441 and also known as Abdul Rahman Ahmed, says JAG Officer Ron DeSantis observed, allowed and participated in illegal acts of torture to help put down a hunger strike in 2006 by dozens of detainees protesting their detention. DeSantis also covered up the torture, Adayfi says.

The Yemen-born Adayfi, held for 14 years without charges, was released in 2016 and flown to Serbia to start a new life after a review board determined he was not a threat to the U.S. He made his allegations about DeSantis in a Nov. 18 interview podcast of Eyes Left, hosted by U.S. Army veteran and anti-war activist Michael Prysner, a graduate of Florida Atlantic University.

“I saw a fucking handsome person who was coming. He said, ‘I’m here to ensure that you’re treated humanely.’ And we said, OK, this is our demand, you know. We’re not asking for much,” Adayfi said. He said DeSantis went on, “And if you have any problems, if you have any concerns, if you have…just talk to me.’ And you know we, we, we, we’re drowning in that place. I’m like, ‘Oh, this is cool.’ That person actually writing something. He will raise the concerns, but it was [a] piece of the game. What they were doing, they were, they were looking what’s [going to] hurt you more, to use against you.”

Adayfi, now 44, said DeSantis watched with amusement as he and other detainees were repeatedly force-fed Ensure, a “meal replacement” shake, through a nasal feeding tube pushed down their throats.

With considerable pride, Adayfi continues:

*So, when he approached me, I said this is the way we are treated. He said, ‘You should start to eat.’ …I threw up on his face. Literally on his face.”
True story? Only DeSantis knows and he's not answering questions. The image of a prisoner striving for some smidgen of dignity under intolerable conditions by throwing up in the face of his jailer stays with with me. 

DeSantis, during his time in Congress, consistently joined the Republican push to keep Guantanamo open despite most of its inmates being declared no danger to Americans, while denying access to American courts to the few who were actually charged with specific crimes.

Not all military lawyers sent to work at Guantanamo ended up punching down solely. For some, their attachment to law led to a different path. Colonel Moe Davis who was DeSantis' boss later left his post refusing to use evidence obtained through torture.

Cartoon credit: DonkeyHotey

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

He got away with murder. Or did he?

Kyle Rittenhouse. Oh yeah, the troubled teenager who grabbed up an AR-15 and drove to Kenosha, Wisconsin to play vigilante during protests in 2020 against the police shooting of Jacob Blake. He killed two young white men playing protester and severely injured another. A Kenosha jury called Rittenhouse's exploit self-defense. His surviving victim is trying to add him to a civil suit against the city and Ritttenhouse is apparently evading subpoenas.

Shortly after he got off on the murder charge, Rittenhouse showed some interest in getting out of the public view and perhaps making a life. But he hasn't gone that way. Instead, he's been performing on the rightwing grifter circuit -- and apparently not being much of an attraction.

His promoters are still using this childish photo, three years after his defining moment. Guess he plays to someone's notion of the innocent all-American white boy.

Mother Jones journalist Stephanie Mencimer has been following the young man's trajectory.  Her account is sad and sensitive.

Rather than slink off into anonymity after his acquittal, Rittenhouse has spent the past year trying to rebrand himself as a free speech and gun-rights activist. Following the siren song of the right-wing industrial complex, Rittenhouse, now 20, spends his time going on podcasts, attending conventions, and taking selfies with fans. ... after a year on the right-wing circuit, Rittenhouse has shaved off any introspection from his public commentary, opting instead for conservative buzzwords about gun rights and the left. 

In public appearances, he seems baffled by the rest of the world’s refusal to exonerate him and embrace the Kenosha jury’s conclusion that he’d acted in self-defense. The problem, of course, is that the verdict didn’t absolve him of taking an assault rifle into a violent protest in the first place. “The conscious choice to impose a risk—even permissible risk, as in the case of driving—opens a person up to moral liability,” the Oxford professor moral philosophy Jeff McMahan told the New Yorker in 2017.  “People who are not culpable can nevertheless be responsible.”

Former First Lady Laura Bush was also 17 when she ran a stop sign and killed another 17-year-old driver. In a memoir, she wrote of losing her faith afterwards, and being “wracked by guilt for years after the crash.” Bush suffered in silence for more than 40 years. “Most of how I ultimately coped with the crash was by trying not to talk about it, not to think about it, to put it aside,” she wrote. “Because there wasn’t anything I could do. Even if I tried.”

Killing those men in Kenosha is all Rittenhouse talks about. From the beginning, Rittenhouse has been preyed on by right-wing opportunists. Bad actors anointed him a hero and absolved him of culpability. They’ve pushed him in front of the klieg lights ...

Mencimer's story feels sad and vacant. And most likely to end badly. 

I'm reminded of another famous killer who seemed to escape appropriate punishment, though not the verdict of society. Ex-cop and ex-elected official Dan White convinced a jury he was high on a twinkie when he killed George Moscone, mayor of San Francisco, and Harvey Milk, our first gay member of the Board of Supes. He got off with a short prison sentence. 

White died by carbon monoxide suicide in his garage two years after his release.

Monday, March 13, 2023

As we await a Nor'easter on Martha's Vineyard ...

Much of this summer tourist island is shut down or hunkered down for the New England winter. But the characteristic post-pandemic economic dislocations persist here too. 

I was greeted by this sign while looking for bird seed at the feed store.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Daylight Saving Time, again

Oh please ... Paul Poast, an International Relations and Foreign Policy prof at the University of Chicago, shares the origins of this nuisance in a tweet thread. The Great War in Europe of 1914-18 inspired the idea among belligerents in order to save coal (it probably didn't). The U.S. played along when we joined the fray in 1917.

The idea required some public education. Note it was "for the soldiers."

After the war we just kept this novelty and are STILL trying to get rid of it. 

Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have repeatedly introduced legislation to keep us permanently on what is now called Daylight Saving Time. Now that's some bipartisanship. I'm all in for their bill.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

A righteous rant from Radley Balko

Some twerp named Michael Knowles who writes for a rightist propaganda outfit called the The Daily Wire suggested recently that  it was time for the “eradication of transgenderism from public life.” Knowles got pissed when folks drew the logical conclusion that this is the language of genocide for trans peope. But quibbles aside, that is what it is.

Knowles' demagoguery, along with more from his partner in bullshit Republican U.S. Senator Mike Lee, teed off that great civil libertarian and scourge of bad cops Radley Balko. (Here's more on Balko's masterful history of policing, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.) Balko is having none of Knowles' whining. 

It isn’t hyperbolic to send up the distress flares when prominent figures in your society first begin using the same sort of rhetoric previous aspiring authoritarians deployed to lay the groundwork for what later became atrocious crimes against humanity — even if you think the odds of similar crimes happening here on a similar scale are pretty low.

No society goes from “not at all like genocide” to full blown genocide without passing through countless “not exactly like Hitler, but still unacceptably Hitler-like” phases along the way. You needn’t wait until the ovens are running or until you stumble onto a pile of spent Zyklon-B canisters to raise alarms. It’s perfectly okay to say, “It’s pretty fucked up that a guy with 400,000 followers who works for a network with an audience of millions thinks trans people don’t exist in an ‘acceptable state of being.’”

... The point here is that Knowles knows exactly what he was doing, and what he’s doing is as common among aspiring demagogue bigots as part lines and flop sweat. You craft a message that you know your nuttiest, most foaming-at-the-mouth supporters will hear as reassurance — but that also leaves you with plausible deniability should one of them resort to violence. “Stand down and stand by.” “Really fine people.”

Balko apparently is no longer an opinion columnist for the Washington Post, a gig he had for nine years. But truth telling like this and an ongoing diet of sophisticated commentary on police misbehavior can be found at his Substack, The Watch. Highly recommended. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Friday cat blogging

Janeway has found her bliss -- or perhaps Allan has. I doubt if she misses us while we're on the other side of the country. I think of Allan as "the animal whisperer." Mutual delight on Bartlett Street.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

A Tale of Two States

You may vaguely remember Sarah Huckabee Sanders -- one of Trump's press secretaries who was willing to say that down was up and up was down for the former POTUS. Well she has wandered off to Arkansas (sorry Arkansas, a state with some good people and lovely outdoor resources) and won the Governor's mansion, sort of a hereditary perk since her father once held that job. 

Governor Huckabee has just worked with her tame Republican legislature to legalize child labor. Really. Here's how CNN reports the legal change:

Arkansas Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law this week that rolls back a number of child labor protections across the state, including a measure that had required employers to obtain work certificates for children under the age of 16.

“The Governor believes protecting kids is most important, but this permit was an arbitrary burden on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job,” Sanders’ spokesperson Alexa Henning said in a statement. “All child labor laws that actually protect children still apply and we expect businesses to comply just as they are required to do now.”

Previously, minors under the age of 16 needed to verify their age and get the written consent of a parent or guardian before a work certificate could be issued by the state’s Division of Labor. But H.B. 1410, known as the Youth Hiring Act of 2023, which passed the Arkansas state legislature earlier this month, no longer requires youth under the age of 16 to have that work certificate as a condition of their employment.

If you think child labor is purely a thing of the past, I would suggest reading Educated and think how this might work out in Arkansas. 

• • •

Meanwhile, the great state of Michigan where a Democratic legislature has prevailed over a gerrymander (and over indigenous white Christian nationalists who sought to kidnap the Democratic Governor) to do away with a "right to work" law

Not that long ago, the Michigan Capitol was a laboratory of conservative policymaking. In 2012, with Republicans holding full control of state government, legislators passed a right-to-work law that allowed employees in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying union dues or their equivalent. ...

“You’ve got this climate where companies that you might have been negotiating with for decades now see unions as weaker,” said Ms. [Lisa] Canada, who until recently served as the political director of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights. “So they go into negotiations with a whole different attitude.”

When Democrats came to power this year, they quickly pledged to undo right-to-work. And on Wednesday, workers in union apparel testified in support of the repeal and filled the balcony of the House chamber as Democrats invoked their two-seat majority to do what they said was the will of the people.

So-called "right to work" laws allow some employees in unionized workplaces to free ride on the benefits won by  the struggles of their unionized co-workers. They serve the employers' interests by undermining solidarity among co-workers. The bosses love that.

Michigan is demonstrating that, as my UniteHERE colleagues would say: "When we fight, we win."

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

For International Women's Day

The Rev. Anne Robertson, whose tweet this is, has served for decades as a United Methodist pastor. I don't know if she knows more about the intricacies of the situation in this Georgia which straddles Europe and Asia in the Caucasus region than I do. For me that's very little. Americans aren't much good at knowing about faraway places.

But like her, I want to recognize courage and collective action where I see it.
The Guardian explains the protests:
Police in the former Soviet state of Georgia have used water cannon and teargas in an attempt to disperse thousands of people who rallied on Tuesday night after parliament gave its initial backing to a draft law on “foreign agents” which critics say represents an authoritarian shift.
... The law, backed by the ruling Dream party, would require any organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from overseas to register as “foreign agents”, or face substantial fines.
Critics have said it is reminiscent of a 2012 law in Russia that has since been used to crack down on dissent.
In too many countries, including also Hungary, Poland, and Nicaragua, which preserve ostensibly democratic elections, these state efforts to eliminate international support for a wider international  culture, often feminist, are a step toward authoritarian capture. So Georgians wave the European Union flag, though Europe is unlikely to want to bring Georgia in any time soon.
This law in Georgia is widely contested.
Georgia’s president, Salome Zourabichvili, has said she intends to veto the law if it crosses her desk but the parliament could override her veto. She expressed solidarity with the protesters on Tuesday.
The struggle for more freedom never ends.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Cruelty is repellent

Alejandra Molina, writing for Religion News Service, reports an intriguing development: In Florida, Latino evangelicals mobilize against DeSantis’ crackdown on immigrants.
(RNS) — After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered state regulators to deny licenses or renewals to those sheltering unaccompanied migrant children, more than 200 faith leaders and evangelical pastors of Spanish-speaking churches made their way to downtown Tallahassee last year in February to protest the governor for preventing them from doing the “work that God has called us do.”
Many of those shelters were housed in local Latino evangelical churches, according to the faith leaders who also demonstrated against a law that now forbids state and local governments from contracting with transportation companies that knowingly bring undocumented immigrants.
Now, as DeSantis prepares for a possible 2024 presidential bid and as he’s unveiled an immigration package that seeks to impose stiffer penalties for Floridians who “knowingly transport, conceal, or harbor” unauthorized immigrants, some Latino evangelical leaders say they’re willing to break the law if it’s enacted and are mobilizing their flocks — this time in larger numbers — to “fight against DeSantis.”
Much is made of DeSantis' success in winning Florida's Latino voters from the Democrats in his recent re-election. And the churches whose leaders have been riled by his anti-immigrant policies are very conservative -- happy enough with DeSantis' anti-LGBTQ initiatives and encouragement of a broad abortion ban. But there is such a thing as going too far ...
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who serves as president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said “there is angst in the Latino evangelical community” over DeSantis’ immigration proposal.
“Every Latino pastor in the state of Florida, every Latino pastor who pastors a Spanish-speaking ministry, if I were a betting man, we have undocumented individuals in each of these churches, bar none,” he said. ”So are you saying that the same Latino pastors that are pro-life, pro-religious liberty, biblical justice, no to socialism and communism and yes to parental rights —  that this leadership, that we are criminals?”
The pastor lauded DeSantis’ “outreach to the Hispanic evangelical community,” but said he is concerned about the third degree felony penalties for harboring someone who is undocumented as well as hospitals collecting immigration information. This doesn’t mean that Latino evangelicals favor President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration issues, he added.
One reason these doubts about DeSantis may be unlikely to have much immediate electoral impact in Florida is that even these pastors' church members who are citizens and could vote, very likely don't vote. Latinos notoriously participate at low rates. If they are also new citizens and thus newly eligible, it often takes people many years in their new country to get into the election habit.

But performative cruelty to the Spanish-speaking migrants can be felt as viscerally morally offensive. DeSantis is attacking deep communal values that are strongly held. The community gets by through communal care; they expect their politicians to have the same values.

In California thirty years ago, a majority of the Spanish-speaking community was turned for life against Republicans by Governor Pete Wilson's cruel anti-immigrant measures. A generation of Latino political leaders grew up determined to participate fully in the governance of the state. They became some of recent decades most notable politicians (for better and less good) -- Kevin de León, Xavier Becerra, Alex Padilla ...

In Philip Bump's new book The Aftermath, he quotes Lisa García Bedolla, a UC Berkeley political scientist, about the generally stand-offish posture of many (most?) potential Latino voters toward elections and the Democratic party:

“There’s growing independent identification in the United States, and especially among the immigrant-origin communities, so Asian Americans and Latinos are much more likely to be independent,” García Bedolla told me. “In a weird way, you know, the support for the Democratic Party is more, well, they [Republicans] hate us. So I guess we have to go over here.”
This dynamic seems to be what DeSantis is setting up. Florida is not California, but cruelty is cruelty and repellent everywhere. Inflicting moral injury has not ended well for Republicans.

Monday, March 06, 2023

Emigration -- or democratic activism?

Listening to Yascha Mounk and Matthias Matthijs discuss the Future of Europe, a throwaway remark stuck with me. (Do read the whole article; it's thought provoking.)

On the topic of relations between Viktor Orbán's authoritarian Hungary and the rest of the European Union, Matthijs commented:

Many young Hungarians have already left for other EU member states (it’s very easy within the single market with free movement of labor) and they don't vote anymore. Orbán has made it very hard for them to vote when they live in the rest of the EU.
Freedom of movement, including to work, between all 27 member states (and some non-members including Ukraine) is a baseline principle of the European Union.
On 1 January 2021, there were 23.7 million citizens of non-member countries living in one of the EU Member States, representing 5.3% of the EU population. In addition, there were 13.7 million people living in one of the EU Member States with the citizenship of another EU Member State. Eurostat
This must have political consequences in some European states as the young and the skilled migrate to places they find more congenial, taking their energy and modern ideas about society with them. They retain citizenship in their state of origin, but often find themselves outside the practice of democracy in both their homelands and their new abodes. Does this matter? Probably in different ways in different EU states. 

EU flag flies along with Italy's on a San Francisco consulate

•  •  •

Which brings me to that nutcase Georgia Republican Congresswoman who is hawking "a divorce" between red and blue dis-United States. Obviously this is just more attention-seeking bullshit, but still dangerous bullshit.

On this I think Tennessean David French has a right insight from our history:

... The South [in 1860] separated from the North and started a ruinous and futile war not because of calm deliberation, but rather because of hysteria and fear — including hysteria and fear whipped up by the partisan press.
So my question is not “Is divorce reasonable?” but rather, “Are we susceptible to the unreason that triggered war once before?
Much as I participate in my own fear and disgust as I watch the entrepreneurs of hate promote terror of drag queens and the danger of crime (that usually means Black men), I try to remember that the haters are still a minority and still can be overcome. Previous generations have risen to that task; we must again.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

American - Jewish - Ukrainian

A year ago today, residents of Martha's Vineyard stood vigil in support of Ukrainians under Russian assault.

Esther Wang provides a deeply reported glimpse of Watching the War from New York among people of Ukrainian descent a year on. Nothing is simple.

... after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Sophia [a pseudonym] began asking herself if she should describe herself as Ukrainian American — a question she says has been common among her friend group. “Specifically for those who are Jewish, there’s been a real reevaluation of who we are and our identity in the wake of all this,” she says. “It was easier, for decades, to call this conflict not our issue. That it was a ‘brother war’ — that Russians and Ukrainians are both Slavs, they can go fight it out.”

That’s changed for her. Early on, her grandfather’s neighborhood in Kyiv was bombed, and her family in New York didn’t hear from him for three days. She’s also seen these shifts play out among her family members in Brooklyn. One day last year, she recalls, “my grandmother took the remote and changed the TV from the Russian channel to the Ukrainian-language channel. And she never changed it back. I’ve never heard her speak Ukrainian in my life — apparently she’s fluent.”

... Sofia identifies as a leftist and says that over the past year has gotten into her share of debates with other leftists about Russia’s history as an imperialist power, and with those who sneer that she’s a “liberal” when she criticizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “People don’t really seem to think that there is colonization because Ukrainians are ethnically similar-looking to Russians,” she explains.

There's much more and the entire article is worth reading. It was unlocked when I happened on it, but that may not last.

We in the U.S. don't expect targets of classic land-grab imperialism to look what we label "White"; and many of us expect the imperial invader to be us. This war strains our prior assumptions. May we find and persist in compassion for all.

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Vaccination permutations

This graph from Kevin Drum surprised me.

I figured that one of the consequences of our political polarization over COVID vaccines would be that increasing numbers of parents would start resisting medical and educational insistence on vaccinating children, one of the triumphs of modern public health. Kids mostly don't have to suffer from nasty childhood diseases these days. A very significant fraction of the increase in life expectancy over the last century came from more individuals living to age five because of escaping childhood plagues.

But apparently the COVID wars have, if anything, slightly increased vaccine coverage among very young children. Maybe all the noise has increased parental awareness - and possibly even broadened access?

California has decided not to fight the fight over the COVID vaccine in the public schools. The Los Angeles Times explains there are good reasons for educational institutions to opt out of this culture war:

Unlike the other vaccines required for school enrollment in California, the COVID vaccines are unreliable at preventing infection or transmission, providing at best modest protection against infection for only a couple of months. 
In contrast, the vaccines already required for school attendance, such as those for measles, mumps, rubella and polio, reliably prevent outbreaks when local vaccination rates reach a certain threshold. The hepatitis B and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines afford protection against infection for years, diminishing long-term transmission risks. The tetanus vaccine provides only individual protection, but it is administered in combination with vaccines for diphtheria and pertussis, which protect against outbreaks over the long term. 
We never had any evidence that the COVID vaccines would work like vaccines that provide a high degree of lasting protection against infection and transmission, conferring so-called herd immunity.
So I guess this polarizing cartoon was not as clever as it seemed in 2021. We live; we learn.

Friday, March 03, 2023

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter last night

Being in remote country meant that we could glimpse the "spangled heavens" through the bare trees of winter.

Friday cat blogging

We're in Massachusetts and Janeway is NOT with us. We thought about it, but a generous offer from our friend enabled us to leave her at home in San Francisco. And all parties are probably glad for this. I hope.

But she sure did want to try to stowaway.

Given she can be a tiny terrorist, we nonetheless miss her ...

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Ukraine war

This Ukrainian flag hangs along my walking route here on Martha's Vineyard Island. There are more visible signs of support for the Ukrainian struggle against Russian aggression here than in San Francisco. A few moments of reflection suggest why that might be.

This island is very dependent on seasonal labor to service the July and August tourist population explosion. There are roughly 20,000 people here now; there will be over 100,000 in the summer. The work in the tourist economy is hard and long; the living conditions for seasonal workers are tough -- there's barely enough housing for year round residents, so rentals are expensive and crowded.

Seasonal workers used to come from the Cape Verdi islands, but "the Brazilians" -- Portuguese speakers -- have become part of the established fabric of this island. Nowadays, short term labor comes from eastern Europe -- probably often from such countries as Poland, Moldova -- and Ukraine. 

So the Ukraine war feels a little closer here than in California.

I was moved by something Tom Nichols, a U.S. Russia expert, wrote about that war (as excerpted by Brad DeLong):

Tom Nichols: The war in Ukraine is the end of a world: Personal grief about the passing of the hopes so many of us had for a better world at the end of the 20th century…. I was wrong. I underestimated the power of Soviet imperial nostalgia. And so today, I grieve. I grieve for the innocent people of Ukraine, for the dead and for the survivors, for the mutilated men and women, for the orphans and the kidnapped children.  I grieve for the elderly who have had to live through the brutality of the Nazis and the Soviets and, now, the Russians. I grieve for a nation whose history will be forever changed by Putin’s crimes against humanity. And yes, I grieve, too, for the Russians…. Finally, I grieve for the end of a world I knew for most of my adult life… [a] world… full of chaos, but… also grounded in hope…. After 1991, time seemed to be on the side of peace and democracy, if only we could summon the will and find the leadership…. Now I live in a new era…. Democracy is under attack everywhere...

I'm still willing to stand up for democracy. We have no choice but to stay true to our own better heritage, however mutilated that may be. But yes, war is evil.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Martha's Vineyard morning

The travel is arduous. The land is lovely. The snow will melt soon enough. A day for settling into another place.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

On the road again

I never flew out of the Harvey Milk terminal at SFO before. It's kind of sweet. And still appropriate to our moment.

On to Boston and beyond to Martha's Vineyard.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Shards from the embattled republic

Things to think about ...

• Democratic Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur started 2023 off right. Congress has not covered itself with glory since but ...

As we approach the new year with hope and optimism in our hearts, let’s heed the timeless words of Daniel Webster etched in the U.S. House of Representatives: “Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests and see whether we also in our day and generation may not perform something to be remembered."
• GOPer dysfunction as evidenced by the Speaker election has many pundits trying to figure out what's wrong with rightwing politicians. Here's David Lauter in the LA Times:

What the voters on the right and their representatives have demanded is a return to the 1950s, if not earlier — an era when government was smaller, the social safety net weaker and traditional gender and racial hierarchies far more solid. That’s not achievable by democratic means: A large majority of the country rejects that agenda. So they’ve turned to anti-democratic tactics to try to push toward their goal. McCarthy and other Republican figures — one can’t truly call them leaders — have tried to indulge that faction to maintain their hold on power.

But their flirtation with anti-democratic practices has clearly hurt the GOP, especially with the swing voters who decide close elections.

That has brought the GOP to its current dead end: Without the far right, they would forfeit their current majority. With it, they may lose their legitimacy with a generation of voters.

• Meanwhile GOPers continue to try to completely ban abortion despite a strong national majority that supports comprehensive reproductive health care. NPR created an useful quiz which you can use to test your own basic understanding of abortion; many of us haven't had to know all about it for many years. Now we do.

• We're finding there's a lot of history, and a lot of heroes, whose work we need to retrieve.

Jill Filipovic asks: "What's the matter with (rightwing) Men?"

In the US, men commit roughly 90% of homicides, 85% of non-parental murders of children under five, 99% of rapes, 88% of robberies, 85% of burglaries, and 78% of aggravated assaults. Most men who are murdered are killed by other men; most women who are murdered are killed by men, too. ...
The men who enact mass violence do have particular afflictions that separate them out from the Republican voter who may also be xenophobic and misogynist, most notably their misfit-ness — their isolation. But of course many women and girls are misfits, too, and they are far less likely than men to hurt others because of it.
It’s the entitlement, the hewing to narrow gender roles, the sense that one isn’t being allowed to be a true man (and that’s someone else’s fault), and the desire to make other people listen and pay attention and bow down — that’s what seems to drive so much violence from this particular demographic.
And it’s those same dangerous sensibilities that the Republican Party is stoking.

Jamelle Bouie reflects on what makes bad cops.

With great power should come greater responsibility and accountability. The more authority you hold in your hands, the tighter the restraints should be on your wrists. 
To give power and authority without responsibility or accountability — to give an institution and its agents the right and the ability to do violence without restraint or consequence — is to cultivate the worst qualities imaginable, among them arrogance, sadism and contempt for the lives of others. It is, in short, to cultivate the attitudes and beliefs and habits of mind that lead too many American police officers to beat and choke and shock and shoot at a moment’s notice, with no regard for either the citizens or the communities we’re told they’re here to serve and protect.

• A former Sheriff of King County, Seattle WA, Sue Rahr, describes what often motivates officers:

Though the vest, the gun, the training, and the equipment all lessen the physical danger of the job, nothing assuages the fear of rejection from one’s group.
Esau McCaulley on Black history in this disunited country:

What makes America a wonder is that this is the land upon which my ancestors, despite the odds, fought for and often made a life for themselves. We are great because this land housed the poetry of Phillis Wheatley and Maya Angelou, the advocacy of Fannie Lou Hamer, the urgency of Nina Simone’s music, and the faith-inspired demand for change in Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons. This way of telling the story allows us to speak of American ideals even if the norm is failure rather than accomplishment. It allows our history to chronicle progress without diminishing the suffering necessary to bring it about.

Ezra Klein waxes philosophical, even if many of us can't afford to: 

... many in politics have abandoned any real vision of the long future. Too often, the right sees only the imagined glories of the past, and the left sees only the injustices of the present. The future exists in our politics mainly to give voice to our fears or urgency to our agendas. We’ve lost sight of the world that abundant, clean energy could make possible. The remarkable burst of prosperity and possibility that has defined the past few hundred years has been a story of energy. ...

Meanwhile, innovators and entrepreneurs work toward a more climate friendly future.

Chris Choo is a planning manager for Marin County, California. She tries to look ahead:

“People still tend to think of these things [wildfire and flood] as isolated terrible things, rather than as part of a collective shift … in what the future might hold,” she said. “We live in nature and too often think of ourselves as separate from it … but nature is still very much in charge.”

• The 2024 presidential election comes closer. And feels familiar. Josh Marshall notes:

If the GOP were ready to move on from Trump they would be having a campaign that wasn’t entirely about him. But that is just what they’re doing.

Sarah Longwell conducts focus groups: 

While many Republican voters may be moving off Trump the man, the forces that he unleashed within the party—economic populism, isolationist foreign policy, election denialism, and above all, an unapologetic and vulgar focus on fighting culture war issues—remain incredibly popular with GOP voters.

Katherine Stewart studies Christian nationalism:

The lessons to be drawn from the rise of DeSantis in the wake of his reelection in Florida are stark. The descent of the Republican Party into a uniquely American form of authoritarianism has not stopped. The second coming of the “anointed one” will not be any better for America than a return of the first. We may be spared Melania and Roger Stone, but we won’t be spared the politics of division, demonization, and domination. DeSantis is simply promising to do demagoguery better. No wonder Trump has started calling him names.

• Former Federal prosecutor Joyce Vance isn't giving up.

I hear a lot of people who say, often apologetically, that they just can’t take it anymore. That they have to unplug from the news for the sake of their sanity. I understand that. Truly, I do. But bad things happen when good people look away. We are still in too fragile of a position to be able to afford that luxury. It is often said that every generation has to secure democracy for itself. Our fight is not over yet.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Ukraine might be an electoral liability for Republicans

Some Republicans seem to want to make U.S. support for Ukraine's resistance to Russian invasion a campaign issue.

Daniel Donner writing at Daily Kos Elections investigates which voters this move might offend. It's a question which came to my mind early on in this war, having grown up in Buffalo where there was and is a significant Ukrainian-American population. 

Here's part of Donner's answer. 

Click to enlarge

The map is a way to represent all 435 Congressional Districts; the blues indicate significant concentrations of people of Ukrainian origin. The Ukrainians I know are proud supporters of Ukrainian independence from Russia; they aren't likely to take kindly to GOPers who like them some Putin.

Donner points out:

Six districts are home to more than than 10,000 residents of Ukrainian extraction: California’s 6th, New York’s 8th and 11th, Ohio’s 7th, Pennsylvania’s 1st, and Washington’s 9th. Notably, these are not all solid blue [Democratic] districts, as half of them are currently represented by Republicans—New York’s 11th, Ohio’s 7th, and Pennsylvania’s 1st. And plenty more Republicans represent districts in the next tier, which each have thousands of residents with Ukrainian heritage.

And which European states are most supportive of a free Ukraine? Why it's eastern European lands which have had the most experience of Russian domination. 

So Daily Kos offers another map:

Click to enlarge
The darkest colors show the most residents of Eastern European extraction. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are obvious locations where supporting the Russian invasion may not make for popularity.

Of course the cause of Ukrainian freedom isn't about U.S. politics. The war is about Ukraine. But this is a moment when our domestic cleavages matter.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Friday dog blogging: we have a new neighbor

Bella is too sweet and too cute not to share
As far as we can tell, she is not yet aware that there is a Janeway next door. And the longer we can keep it that way, the better. We keep explaining to Janeway: "cats don't go out!" She is not properly cautious.

Friday cat blogging

To mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion, here's a chilly Ukrainian cat, outside recaptured Kharkiv.

A surprising number of photos from this war show cats. Ukrainians seem to like felines. Perhaps the culture of this land on the Black Sea has some of the elements of cultures along the Mediterranean? Certainly those cultures all value their cats.

Janeway will return in this space next week. We'll be out of town, but she's provided lots of pictures I can post while she stays home.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Colonial wars past

In Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam Harvard historian Fredrik Logevall aims to provide

a full-fledged international account of how the whole saga began, a book that takes us from the end of World War I, when the future of European colonial empires still seemed secure, through World War II and then the Franco-Viet Minh War and its dramatic climax, to the fateful American decision to build up and defend South Vietnam.
This Pulitzer Prize winning history is sweeping, thorough, fascinating -- and, perhaps most surprisingly, gentle. This is a sad narrative, but not, as it might have been, a catalogue of villains.

Logevall writes with empathy for most all the men (there were hardly any women who figure as actors) engulfed in the long running tragedy. He's particularly aware of slaughtered Vietnamese and French colonial draftees, but also of successive French and American officers and officials tasked by their countries with holding back the tide of history.

The American war in Vietnam was my backdrop growing up and coming into young adulthood. I sought then to understand the American war, tuning in to contemporary US journalism, which did convey very early on that this was a futile and probably immoral misadventure. I also dipped into alternative sources, mostly from the left, including the international relations Howard University scholar Bernard Fall and the anti-imperialist Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett who reported from Hanoi. But like most engaged young anti-warriors, my real interest at the time was what this atrocious war was doing to my own country. Vietnam was a symptom of racism, and inequality, and hubris that had to be contested at home. So a very superficial narrative of what was going on in Indochina would suffice for many of us.

This book fills in background that was neither accessible nor seemed important to people like me at the time. Some random highlights, most all of which touch on points when the tragedy could have been, if not averted, played out to a different finish:
• Logevall suggests that if FDR had lived, the sort of instinctive anti-colonialism that was still part of the pre-WWII American mental furniture might have led him to try to keep the French from returning to make war on Indochinese nationalists. We didn't much hold with colonies in those days (while not admitting we'd seized a few from Spain at the beginning of the century.)
But Roosevelt died, and soon thereafter patterns of thought were laid down that would drive U.S. policy for the next twenty years.
• Ho Chi Minh, who had been jousting with French colonialism since the Versailles Conference in 1921 that concluded WWI in western Europe, saw the 1939 European war (WWII) and the German defeat of France as Vietnam's chance for independence. First the Vietnamese had to take on the Japanese; then expel the Europeans. The resurgent French wanted their colony back in 1945 and soon were fighting Ho's Viet Minh. Yet according to Logevell's account, Ho didn't give upon the hope that the Americans would let the French fail and not take up the war as late of 1949.

• John F. Kennedy toured French Indochina in 1951, seeking to burnish his foreign policy credentials. Even then, with French defeat and expulsion by Vietnamese nationalists still three years ahead, he saw where this was going in notes he wrote about the trip:
"We are more and more becoming colonialists in the minds of the people ... we will be damned if we don't do what they [the emerging nations] want."
• Yet by the time the Kennedy administration succeeded Eisenhower in 1961, the young president and his country had succumbed to the inertia of continuity that pervades our political system.
A White House aide of the time, when asked years later how the U.S. interest in Vietnam was defined in 1961, answered "it was simply a given, assumed and unquestioned." The given was that Ho Chi Minh could not be allowed to prevail in Vietnam, that the Saigon government must survive, that failure to thwart the Communists here would only make the task harder next time.
And so the Americans replicated the terrible trajectory of the France's failing empire and tried to impose our own post-WWII imperium. It's a bit of an investment of time to read Logevall's whole story, much of it intricately descriptive of military folly in terrible jungles amid both bravery and stupidity on all sides. Mostly there was death -- but eventually (in 1954) there was pride in the new Vietnam in the north and determination to finish the job by winning national freedom in the south. And eventually the intruding Americans too were swept away, though it cost of at least a million Vietnamese deaths and 20 more years of suffering.

• • •

The Vietnamese siege of the French outpost at Dien Bien Phu was the first world event which stuck in my consciousness as a child. I had no idea what it was about, but I have vague memories of the 15 minute nightly TV newscast repeating day after day that the battle for this obscure jungle redoubt raged on -- and then it was over and the oh-so-foreign Vietnamese had prevailed. Reading Logevall's detailed account, I realized that I was being drawn back into my mother's feelings during that event. 

She had been devastated in 1940 by what was called "the fall of France," the overrunning of that country by Nazi Germany -- she was among the relatively small contingent of Americans who had urged preparedness to fight on an isolationist United States. During WWII, listening to the war on the radio, she developed great affection for the Free French and its leader Charles DeGaulle. Some of that carried over into her reaction to France's colonial war in Vietnam. She worried about the French and was oblivious to the dignity of Asian colonial subjects. She conveyed that to me as we listened to "the fall" of Dien Bien Phu. Reading about Dien Bien Phu, I felt again her emotions, an odd sensation.

• • •

The title of Logevall's book derives from a remark by the journalist David Halberstam that the American war in Vietnam occurred "in the embers of another colonial war." Halberstam wrote his own account of America's Vietnam quagmire, appearing in 1972 when the war had not yet ended, The Best and the Brightest. Yes, I'm rereading that one ...