Monday, April 22, 2024

Civilized

For anyone who has ever had to worry that some busy body would challenge their gender when entering a pubic bathroom, this notice in a diner is a welcome touch.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Trump and MAGA are weak

Kiev book fair logo
It's a terrible thing when it feels right to be cheering for more guns. But I do cheer today that the American political system -- at long last -- has managed to do the right thing about arming Ukrainians' defense of their vision of a better society and a free country. 

At least less Ukrainians will be dying because we couldn't get our act together. I hope.

A couple of days ago the very measured Heather Cox Richardson summarized Donald Trump's unraveling: 

Americans overwhelmingly support reproductive freedoms, and Republicans are getting hammered over the extreme abortion bans now operative in Republican-dominated states. Now Trump and a number of Republicans have tried to back away from their antiabortion positions, infuriating antiabortion activists. 
It is hard to see how the Republican Party can appeal to both Trump’s base and general voters at the same time.  

That split dramatically weakens Trump politically while he is in an increasingly precarious position personally. He [has gone] on trial on Monday, April 15, for alleged crimes committed as he interfered in the 2016 election. 

At the same time, the $175 million appeals bond he posted to cover the judgment in his business fraud trial has been questioned and must be justified [further]. The court has scheduled a hearing on the bond for April 22. And his performance at rallies and private events has been unstable. 

He seems a shaky reed on which to hang a political party, especially as his MAGA Republicans have proven unable to manage the House of Representatives and are increasingly being called out as Russian puppets for their attacks on Ukraine aid. 

It's up to we the people to finish the job in November.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Trusting the jury

New York Times courtroom reporter Adam Klasfeld observed of the Trump New York City trial he is attending:

I have seen enough jury trials to observe that jurors take their jobs seriously.

This encourages me to bring back something I once wrote about being in a jury pool way back in 1987. When I described the experience in 2005, the context was a lot closer in time; these days I think I need to elaborate just a bit.

Anyone remember who Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North was? He was Ronald Reagan's phony heroic soldier and one of his bagmen in the convoluted episode we call the Iran/Contra Affair whose centerpiece included provision of arms to Nicaraguan right wing insurgents in violation an explicit Congressional ban. Congressional hearings elicited testimony that the US had also been funneling missiles to Iran in exchange for hostages taken in Lebanon by Islamic Jihad, while laundering payments through the Sultan of Brunei. The whole mess was shocking, mostly stupid, and sordid. 

There were televised hearings in which North was the star witness. 

In the midst of these hearings in 1987, I was called for jury duty in Federal Court in San Francisco:

Like most people, I was not happy about this -- I expected tedium and wasted time, as I can't imagine the prosecutor or defense attorney who'd risk putting me on a jury. But I dutifully showed up and sat through an hour or so lecture from a court official on the importance of a good faith, honest and sincere effort to carry out the task we might be given. Then the two hundred or so of us were left in a room furnished like a high school cafeteria (I remember the same orange plastic chairs and tables) to wait to be called into court. There was nothing to do but watch a bank of televisions.

On the tube, a ramrod straight Marine was swearing to "tell the whole truth." It was Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra congressional investigating committee. He was a picture of uprightness, explaining how he'd organized a secret army of "freedom fighters" using every kind of ruse to hide from Congress -- and carried out his Commander in Chief's implied, though never explicit, instructions. After all, laundering money and trading arms for hostages was "defending freedom."

The tangled tale of illegal acts and lies to cover them made me feel ill. But I figured North looked the part of a good guy; his "sincere" pose was probably playing well with most people. And when I got outside the Federal Building and read more about his testimony, it was clear he was going over well.

But for the next 3 days, I had to go back to the jury room, to sit in front of those televised hearings. Gradually, little circles of strangers began to talk with each other. And something amazing was happening -- we were all thinking like jurors, not a TV audience. People began to comment: "he looks good, but I don't trust him"; "does he really think he has a right to break the law?"; "they think they are above the law because they are in the government." In that room, Oliver North was convicted, while in most of the U.S. he successfully played the role of hero.

And then, we, the prospective jurors, were all excused, never finding out what happened to the case we'd been brought in for.

The alchemy of performing the civic duty of being a juror sometimes changes people -- or not. Trump and the MAGAs are trying to tear up our civic fabric; if they are constricted by the rules, they cannot dominate. A jury is being asked if they still care enough for that fabric to defend it in the very presence of the raging sociopath who is trying to eviscerate it. 

I will not be surprised if they are up to the task.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Friday cat blogging

Janeway and Mio are doing a good job overseeing Alln in our absence. Who knows what he'd get into without them to remind him to feed and love them?

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Organized fire

The news that Jane McAlevey has entered hospice care hits hard. If you didn't have the chance to meet her, know that Jane was a stalwart of the UC Berkeley Labor Center and hundreds of labor struggles over the last four decades. She communicated how people, collectively, can find their power and fight for themselves.

I've always liked this snap of Jane caught at a board meeting of the Applied Research Center in 2000.

Her organized fire, harnessing anger and pride for people power, has made a difference to so many.

• • •

The news about Jane puts me in mind of this from the wise Kareem Abdul Jabbar:

The past few years has been a relentless stream of days in which someone I care about dies and I grieve the loss. Worse, I’m at an age where I know I will have to face many more of those days. Death. Grieve. Repeat. I am no longer surprised when it happens, the inevitability has numbed me from shock. But not from the sadness. Not from the grief.

At the same time, I realize that each death is like a customer number being called at a bakery—each number brings us closer to our own digits being announced. Then—if you’ve lived your life right—others will grieve for you. Circle of life, blah blah blah.

I’m all for inspirational quotes that embrace the challenges of life with a positive can-do attitude. I do them almost every week. But to ignore the darker aspects of living is to trivialize them and leaves us ill-equipped to deal with them. In a way, the grieving process is a way of honoring your relationships and celebrating a life that is filled with people worth grieving over.

Each day I wake prepared to grieve again. I am not afraid of it anymore. Grief and I are friendly companions skipping stones across the infinite that spreads out before me like a calm lake with grandchildren frolicking on the shore.

It's a time of life. But some people go on too soon.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Good riddance


It's great to learn that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has decided to close the Federal Corrections Institution at Dublin, California. This minimum security women's prison has been a sexual abuse hellhole for a couple of decades. The last few male wardens have ended up charged and convicted for assaulting and raping inmates. 

... “It is a remarkable admission,” said attorney Michael Bien, whose law firm represents inmates in a class-action lawsuit over conditions at the prison. Prison authorities are “saying they can’t operate this prison safely.” He said closure doesn’t address the underlying issue. “How does this solve the problems? The same policy and procedures are in place at other prisons. It is not the building that did anything wrong.” ... “It is an unprecedented move to opt for closure,” said Amaris Montes, director of West Coast litigation and advocacy for Right Behind Bars. “It has been a long time coming for Dublin.”  

... Maria Ledesma, a former inmate released from Dublin after two years in 2022, said she was surprised the closure took so long. “I wish it would have happened sooner,” the 52-year-old Salt Lake City woman said . During her time there, she saw frequent sexual abuse. “Girls were getting raped on the daily there,” she said.

Ledesma recalled walking back from her prison job when she heard some shuffling and spotted two people between the buildings. “There was the warden, zipping up his pants,” she said. “He looked at me, I looked at him, and I knew in that moment I needed to put my head down and keep walking.”

It may or may not be relevant that the current head of the Bureau of Prisons is a woman.

• • •

The article from the LA Times I've quoted here describes the culture of abuse at the Dublin facility as going back to the 1990s. I have reason to believe it is even older.

In 1978-9, I regularly visited a very young Native American woman who was doing a couple of years in there as part of a plea agreement. She claimed she had been waiting in a car while some guys she was with charged into a bank and apparently attempted an armed heist. Hence, there was a federal crime, as bank robbery was then usually prosecuted by the feds. She copped to a guilty plea for a short sentence just to be done with this; somehow the guys got off altogether, but she didn't much understand any of it except that she ended up locked up in a federal prison in another state. I met her through friends who had befriended her in the Seattle King County jail when she was awaiting trial; my friends were in jail for pouring blood on signature petitions for a county anti-gay rights initiative. (Those were the days.)

FCI Dublin was a dreary place. The visiting area was an open space with plastic chairs and tables that looked like a school lunchroom. Each group jostled for its own space amid the hubbub. Many visitors came with children; as I understood it, the younger kids had to be left in a prison day care pen, but older ones did join the visiting. I'm sure that, despite all the searches of inmates and scanning of their visitors, a lot of contraband came in through that room, though I never knew how it worked.

My friend did assure me that some women could get anything they wanted through "relationships" with male guards. She never clarified to me how she fit in the economy of the place and I was too ignorant to know how to ask.

The curiosity of the era was that Patty Heart, the newspaper heiress turned terrorist, was locked up there. She was always in the visiting room with a couple tables of visitors, very much a queen bee for the moment. In February 1979, President Jimmy Carter commuted her bank robbery sentence.

One evening the prison put on a dance to which the inmates were allowed to invite a guest. This was a challenge to me; not only didn't I dance, but I looked like a proper '70s lesbian, a schlub. I took as much care as I could with what I wore, wanting not to embarrass my young friend. I am sure I didn't enhance her status any. 

There was a rumor (later true for awhile) that FCI Dublin was about to be made coed. My friend belonged to a set that hated the idea: they were sure that whatever privileges were available would go to the guys. They were proved right when the experiment happened.

Eventually my friend got out and returned to the Northwest. I lost touch with her. She'd be 65-ish today. I wonder if she has made it alive ...

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Whining with a side of extortion

Donald Trump, on trial for one of his many crimes, is sinking in the polls and attempting to imitate the mob bosses he always admired. 

His small donors are not forking over cash at the volume they once did. Maybe they smell a rat? Anyway, he whines for them.

For donors who can give contribute "bigly", the message is extortion. As political scientist Bruce Cain explained to Thomas Edsall

... some of the conservative victories in campaign-finance law have had the unintended consequence of strengthening “the power of elected officials to coerce donations out of the donors.”
There has always been, Cain wrote by email, “an element of hostile dependency built into campaign fund-raising. Businesses have always given money to gain access or avoid bad things happening to them if the people in power feel that certain supporters let them down.”
Until recently, Cain argued, the potential for extortion was limited by stricter campaign contribution laws before we loosened the system up post the Citizens United decision. The irony of inviting large donors and businesses to give large or unlimited donations is that the court strengthened the implicit hostile dependency relationship between donors and Trump.
Republican donors sought the elimination of restrictions on donors in the belief that such loosening of the law “would favor them,” Cain wrote. Instead, “the dog has caught the car just as it is backing up on it,” adding: “Trump’s mafia m.o. can be counted on to take this to the extreme.”
While greed and fear are powerful motivations behind the decision to make campaign contributions to a candidate, they are not antithetical. Rather, they reinforce each other, something Trump appears to be acutely aware of.

 Not a pretty picture.

I don't expect our plutocrats to know much history, but if they did, they'd be aware that the experience of men who thought they could buy protection from the autocrats they enabled has not been happy.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Info-graphic palooza

I collect these quasi-meaningful info-graphics. Sometimes they go with some topic on which I'm writing. Sometimes they just intrigue me. Busy today, so I'll just share a few:

Click to enlarge. The green areas are growing; the pink areas are losing population.

In general, population growth signals a healthy economy. With freedom of movement across borders in the European Union, including to work, many people are clearly moving west. Nevertheless, when we walked the Camino half a decade ago, we saw plenty to indicate that the westerly Spanish countryside was emptying out.

Click to enlarge. Gerrymandering has its effects.

I was surprised that Illinois (12.3 million) and New Jersey (9.2 million) were the most gerrymandered largish Democratic states. The monster ones, California and New York, have drawn congressional districts that give Republicans a chance; though Dems win most of their seats. Interesting too, that Louisiana and Alabama have been forced by the feds to give their Black population something like a chance to elect a few Congressmembers so they do not appear as rigged for Republicans as the rest of the South.

Click to enlarge

In this moment, people in Pennsylvania who always vote have been trending more and more Democratic. As recently as 2018, the GOP leaners were more numerous in this subset of the electorate. Over the last three cycles, a broad coalition for Dems has formed and increased with each election. It's always important to bring new voters to a coalition, but bringing the existing base out has become central to getting a Democratic win.

Enjoy unpacking these.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

A measure of comeuppance

On the eve of Trump's first criminal trial, let's listen in on what Jessica Bennett imagines is rumbling about in his disordered brain: 

Letitia James. Fani Willis. E. Jean Carroll, and her lawyer Roberta Kaplan. And, of course, Stormy Daniels. The five women who are living rent-free in Mr. Trump’s mind these days.
... Women. I suspect he never thought they would be the ones to corner him, making the case about his craven and possibly criminal behavior. Mr. Trump has long treated women as objects, targets, supplicants ... He seems to mostly associate women with sex — they are “driving me crazy,” he said of all the “beautiful women” at a recent event at Mar-a-Lago — or with spite (see how he treated Nikki Haley, Megyn Kelly, Hillary Clinton and others). He will woo them, he will grab them, he will scorn them, he will mix them up, he will call them names. But he never took them as much of a threat, until now.

.... But it’s the women whose behavior — call it bravery and moxie, as I do, or impertinence and temerity, as Mr. Trump might — gets him spinning like a top, as when the judgment in Ms. James’s case against him threatened Mr. Trump’s real estate assets — or in his words, “my ‘babies.’”
Imagine being called to account by people — by a gender, I’d argue — that you consider beneath you. ... After years of demonizing women who refuse to do his bidding, he is getting a measure of comeuppance at their hands. ...

For whatever reason, Bennett left Judge Tanya Chutkan, who presides over his federal January 6 insurrection trial, out of this terrifying regiment of women. Chutkin can do him as much or more harm as these women. It's a lovely thought, that he should pay at least a little for his crimes against our country.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Donald Trump did this


Jessica Valenti thinks Arizona will be seen as a tipping point.

... It’s like they’re rubbing our noses in it.

Gone is the pretense that Republicans want to pass abortion bans to protect women’s health, or that they’re enacting laws in service of some grand morality. With this ruling, the GOP made clear what their end goal is: forcing women back to a time when we weren’t full citizens, and when we could be married off as children to any 50-year-old lech who decided he wanted us.

To endure that insult, after two years of watching stories about little girls forced into childbirth and women mandated to deliver dead babies, is too much for anyone to take. Especially women. 

And that’s the thing that Democrats would do well to remember as we close in on November: The danger abortion bans pose to women’s health and lives makes us afraid, but what makes us furious is the affront to our humanity.

It’s that anger that politicians campaigning on abortion rights need to tap into. The foremost feeling driving American women on abortion rights isn’t fear—it’s humiliation. It is demeaning, incredibly so, to watch as statehouses full of men decide that women were better off in a time when we had no choices, about anything.

If Democrats want to motivate women, they should talk less about how dangerous abortion bans are, and more about what that danger means: that to Republicans, our lives don’t matter. Instead of talking about how women are losing their rights, remind voters why that is: because Republicans don’t want women to have any.

If we learn anything from the Arizona tipping point, let it be that.

Let's make Valenti correct in November.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday cat blogging

No cats here in the house on the Vineyard. Our monsters are not the sort to travel well. But that doesn't mean we're entirely cat-deprived. This house is full cat art and cat artifacts. Here are a few:

 
A young relative created this 30 years ago -- it hangs in a prominent spot.
 
This beauty looms over the desk where I write.
In the living room, this Japanese beauty knows how to entertain a feline.
 
On the driveway, there's a memory of hazards to cats past.
 
Griveny was once the undisputed lord of this manor ...
 
while Morty of blessed memory is nestled among the couch cushions.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. It's not entirely clear who first said it, but the French aphorism seems all too true of the horrors we see, again, being acted out on the bodies and souls on Gazan Palestinians and traumatized Jewish Israelis.

Dr. Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, has as much access to broad scale American media as any Palestinian; he uses this to try to explain the tribulations of the land of his ancestors.  In 2020, he published his seventh history, The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017. It's more than slightly appalling to realize how little has changed in the interaction of Palestinians and Zionist Jews since a Jewish nationalism to be based in Palestine was first articulated the 19th century.

Khalidi's great-great great uncle Yusef Diya, was mayor of Jerusalem under the Ottoman empire. He corresponded with Theodor Herzl, the Austrian founder of European Zionism, and tried to warn Herzl that Palestine "is inhabited by others ..." The point was not taken then and remains obscured to this day, says the professor:
Either the Zionist leader meant deceive him by concealing the true aims of the Zionist movement, or Herzl simply did not see Yusuf Diya and the Arabs of Palestine as being worthy of being taken seriously."
When it came to pass in 1948, the founding of the Jewish Israeli state depended on the nakba, the cleansing, dispossession, and expulsion of as much of the Palestinian population as Zionists could manage. Once the Zionists had seized homes and power, they needed to deny the legitimacy of the history, culture, and society that had been displaced.
If they did not exist, then even well-founded Palestinian objections to the Zionist movement's plans could be simply ignored.
The Hundred Years War reports on a series of periods of Zionist upending of Palestinian life, beginning with the British imperial control of 1917-39, through the wars of 1947-1948, 1967, and 1982. Khalidi's account of the time of the first intifada (the locally led, predominantly non-violent protests 1987-1995) becomes more directly personal. He served as part of a Palestinian negotiating team involved in what came to be called "the Oslo process" which brought the old Palestinian leadership back inside the country without autonomy and with responsibility for tamping down local Palestinian unrest on behalf of the Israeli state.

His conclusions, written half a decade before current agonies, still seems on point:
 ... the great powers have repeatedly tried to act in spite of the Palestinians, ignoring them, talking for them over their heads, or pretending they do not exist. In the face of the heavy odds against them, however, the Palestinians have shown a stubborn capacity to resist these efforts to eliminate them politically and scatter them to the four winds.... for all its might, its nuclear weapons, and its alliance with the United States, today the Jewish state is at least as contested globally as it was at any time in the past.
... While the fundamentally colonial nature of the Palestinian-Israel encounter must be acknowledged, there are now two peoples in Palestine, irrespective of how they came into being, and the conflict between them cannot be resolved as long as the national existence of each is denied by the other. Their mutual acceptance can only be based on complete equality of rights, including national rights, notwithstanding the crucial historical differences between the two. There is no other possible sustainable solution, barring the unthinkable notion of one people's extermination or expulsion by the other.

 • • •

Today (April 11, 2024) Khalidi writes in the Guardian that too little has changed since Hamas' raid of 10/7 and Israel's vengeful punitive war on Gaza.

... While much has changed since 7 October, the events of the past six months are not unique, and do not stand outside history. We can only properly understand them within the context of the century-long war waged on Palestine, notwithstanding efforts by Israel to deny the relevance of context, and to explain them in terms of the “barbarity” characteristic of its enemies. While the actions of Hamas and Israel since 7 October might appear to represent a change or a departure, they are consistent with decades of Israeli ethnic cleansing, military occupation and theft of Palestinian land, with years of the siege and deprivation of the Gaza Strip, and with an often violent Palestinian response to these actions. ... an upheaval that might have been a catalyst of change may in fact produce continuity of colonisation and occupation, of the Israeli establishment’s exclusive reliance on force, and of armed Palestinian resistance.
... One constant in the 100 years of this war is that Palestinians have not been allowed to choose who represents them. ... In the absence of Palestinian agreement on a unified and credible political voice representing a national consensus, this would mean that crucial decisions about the future of their people will be made by outside powers, as has happened so many times in the past.
... Looking back over the past six months – at the cruel slaughter of civilians on an unprecedented scale, the millions of people made homeless, the mass famine and disease induced by Israel – it is clear that this marks a new abyss into which the struggle over Palestine has sunk. While this phase reflects the underlying lineaments of previous ones in this 100 years’ war, its intensity is unique, and it has created deep new traumas. Not only does no end to this carnage appear in sight: we seem to be further than ever from a lasting and sustainable resolution, one based on dismantling structures of oppression and supremacy, and on justice, completely equal rights and mutual recognition.
Something has to give and it is not clear how. Neither national people is going away.

Where are the working women?

Erudite Partner pointed out a wrinkle about the reception of her latest article syndicated by Tom Dispatch, headlined "Republicans have plans for working people."

Among the many sites which have picked this up, almost all that added images have accompanied the text with pictures of male workers, mostly white. Here's a selection of how lefty publications think to illustrate an article about the future of work:




Their selections remind me of a 1970s introduction to "scientific socialism" which we once studied. It began: "take you typical worker -- a steelworker."

No, dammit! Though men's labor force participation rate is counted as higher than for women (statisticians don't count child raising as work?), most women are working for wages in this country.

And as is true in academia, once they let us in there, we rise to the top. Liz Shuler is president of the national union federation, the AFL-CIO. Some of the most dynamic leaders of activist unions are women: think Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers and Gwen Mills if the hospitality union UNITE/HERE.

The lefty publications are behind the curve here -- their picture of a typical worker needs updating.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Misusing their brains for profit and fun

So you don't have to, Erudite Partner read up on what Trump's "policy" wonks plan to do to working people.

It’s not exactly news that conservatives, who present themselves as the friends of working people, often support policies that threaten not only workers’ livelihoods, but their very lives. This fall, as we face the most consequential elections of my lifetime (all 71 years of it), rights that working people once upon a time fought and died for—the eight-hour day, a legal minimum wage, protections against child labor—are, in effect, back on the ballot. The people preparing for a second Trump presidency aren’t hiding their intentions either. Anyone can discover them, for instance, in the Heritage Foundation’s well-publicized Project 2025 Mandate for Leadership, a “presidential transition” plan that any future Trump administration is expected to put into operation.
Some guy from the Federalist Society named Jonathan Berry wants to get rid of the data collection that makes it possible to see whether employers are discriminating.
... the elimination of “racial classifications” would be consequential for many working people, as Berry makes clear. “The Biden Administration,” he complains, “has pushed ‘racial equity’ in every area of our national life, including in employment, and has condoned the use of racial classifications and racial preferences under the guise of DEI and critical race theory, which categorizes individuals as oppressors and victims based on race.” Pushing racial equity in employment? The horror!

Californians with long memories might recall that way back in 2003, right wingers put this one on the ballot as Prop. 54. We voted it down when Californians noticed it would prevent health authorities from collecting information on health outcomes of different groups.

The Trump guys have lots of ideas, most of them also retreads; allowing child labor and reducing the number of employees subject to labor laws are among them.

Read all about it. We always assumed these guys were bad news; now they've spelled out their vile intentions.

The time to unite and fight is now, so the Donald never crawls back into power.

Donald Trump hopes he's found a way to slice the baby in half

Trump's recent video claiming he's found a way to escape the trap he set for Republicans and himself by appointing anti-abortion Supreme Court justices is pretty much a dud that will satisfy no one.

He can't both boast that he set the stage for overturning Roe v. Wade and also claim he wants to preserve the freedom of the states to regulate abortion as they choose. It's gooble-de-gook. I hope media keep pushing him on whether he'd enforce existing prohibitions on mailing abortion drugs (the Comstock Acts - if GOPers get control, you are going to have to learn about this legal remnant.) Meanwhile anti-arbortion absolutists like Mike Pence fear he is betraying them (as of course he would if it helped keep him out of jail.)

But to me the most interesting comment on Trump's declaration came from Heather Cox Richardson. She suspects that his political handlers had him announce his "position" in a carefully produced video because they don't trust him not to wander from his talking points if they let him loose.

The video did, though, make an enormously interesting and unintended point: Trump is communicating with voters outside his carefully curated bubble almost exclusively through videos, even on a topic as important as abortion. At rallies, his speeches have become erratic and wandering, with occasional slurred words, and observers have wondered how he would present to more general audiences. It appears that his team has concluded that he will not present well and that general audiences must see him in carefully curated settings, like this apparently heavily edited video.

At some point, he's going to have to talk about this -- or so obviously dodge that it becomes clear to all that he's a damaged, fearful old guy who is loosing it.

Simon Rosenberg reminds us that Trump is best understood as a desperate, faltering old criminal.

It’s my view that once it becomes understood Trump is no longer ahead we will start to get a more honest assessment of the strength and weaknesses of the two candidates; that this perception Trump is ahead and strong have masked his historic awfulness, and the clear problems with his campaign and his party. For in my view Trump is weak, not strong. He’s struggling to raise money. He’s facing an unprecedented revolt inside his party, causing a potentially fatal splintering of his coalition. MAGA lost in 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023, and lost the big early 2024 bellwether, NY-3, by 8 points!!!!!!!!! The RNC is in disarray and months behind Biden organizationally without enough time to make it up. Many prominent Republicans in Congress are retiring, quitting and abandoning ship. ...
Trump may be in the process of ousting another Speaker. His agenda is much further away from the electorate than before. His performance on the stump is significantly degraded, far more impulsive, erratic and disturbing. He wears more make up than a drag queen. He keeps losing and getting humiliated in court. He’s an adjudicated rapist. He committed one of the largest financial frauds in American history. His new company is already failing. He stole America’s secrets, lied to the FBI it all, and shared those secrets with others. He tried to end American democracy for all time in 2021 and has promised to finish the job if he gets back into the White House. He and his family have corruptly taken more money from foreign governments than any family in US history.
He is singularly responsible for ending Roe, stripping the rights and freedoms away from the women of America, and yesterday endorsed the most severe abortion restrictions in the states, which are without doubt, the most extreme policy enacted in America in many generations. He’s the ugliest political thing we’ve all ever seen, and all of this ugliness and structural weakness is being largely dismissed because the perception that he leads in polling makes him “strong.” ...

He's not strong. He's a crook who is running for President to escape the law ...

Monday, April 08, 2024

Trump sells protection to billionaires

There's been a lot of noise over Joe Biden's campaign cash advantage over Donald Trump. And up to now in 2024, that's been real. Joe has collected millions, much of it from small donors. 

Meanwhile, Trump's small donor supporters are showing symptoms of exhaustion; do they still continue to be willing to receive 8 emails a day, especially knowing that their gifts are likely to go for the candidate's legal expenses? There may be a limit. 

Many of Donald's billionaire buddies have been hesitant to pony up; tycoons don't much like disorder and arbitrary decision making and they know what they saw last time. But with his semi-normie challengers -- Haley and DeSantis -- out of the race, they are coming around. A bunch of them brought buckets of cash to Palm Beach last weekend. 

David Lauter of the LA Times does a succinct job of explaining what they expect to get for their investment in Donald:

... one thread runs through much of the wealthy opposition to [Joe Biden]: taxes. “At the end of 2025, on Dec. 31, all of the individual tax provisions of the 2017 tax bill will expire,” said Howard Gleckman of Washington’s Tax Policy Center. That includes some popular provisions such as the higher standard deduction and lower tax rates for average taxpayers.
The 2017 tax bill reduced taxes so much at the upper end that it was easy for Democrats to portray the bill as a tax cut for the rich, even though it did reduce rates for most taxpayers. But allowing it to expire “would be cast as a huge tax increase for most American households,” Gleckman said. 
Congress will have a limited set of choices:
    1    Allow all the popular tax breaks to expire and risk the wrath of voters.
    2    Extend them and cause the federal deficit to balloon by about $3.5 trillion over the following decade. (Both parties have repeatedly allowed huge deficit expansions, but interest rates and near-record debt have changed the calculus.)
    3    Find ways to offset the cost while preserving tax breaks for average Americans.
Option three is the scenario many ultra-wealthy Americans appear to be worried about.
If Congress decides that some or all the cost of renewed a tax cut needs to be offset, which party has the majority and whether the White House is occupied by Trump or Biden will have an enormous impact.
Republicans have had huge difficulty for more than a decade in uniting behind any concrete plan for cutting the federal deficit. 
Their dilemma has gotten harder to solve as the Republican voter base has become less affluent. Proposals to reduce the cost of big federal benefit programs [like Social Security and Medicare], which were a GOP hallmark pre-Trump, have fallen out of favor.
... For decades, wealthy Americans have been able to count on their friends in Congress, especially in the Senate, to bottle up popular ideas for upper-income tax hikes. But as both parties have become more populist, that strategy has become less of a sure thing.
Instead, a lot of rich Americans appear to have settled on a different way to hedge their bets: support a fellow billionaire for the White House.
Taxes are the cost of civilization. Billionaires -- think Elon Musk, for example -- have forgotten they need civilization to survive. Silly boys.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

We're schizoid about the economy

This graphic is driving me nuts. Do click on it to get the full impression.

The Wall Street Journal asked potential voters in the seven states generally believed to be where the fall Presidential election will be decided: "Has the U.S. economy, or your state's economy, gotten better or worse in the last two years?" 
 
This shows the result: in all those states, more voters than not thought their own local, familiar, economy had gotten better. But overall, by a lot, they thought the national economy had gotten worse. 

WTF?

I don't know what is going on here. Somehow there is a huge disjunction between what respondents believe and their (lying?) eyes. Is this a hangover from the shock of a pandemic that closed the whole thing down abruptly and only reopened in fits and starts? Are they absorbing mass (or small) media that tells them that things are awful? Some other cause?
 
What do respondents envision when asked about "the economy"? I suspect that the measues that shape our answers to that question  may differ a lot. For some it might be, am I making enough money to live comfortably? For others, it might mean something more like, can I plan for a bigger and better future -- buying a new car, taking out a mortgage on a residence, taking a vacation?
 
Please leave any explanations you can think of in the comments.
 • • •

To try to get a better sense of this, I ask myself how I'd answer. As a resident of San Francisco, I'd certainly say the local economy was getting worse: we have enjoyed a city economy based on commuters and these folks just aren't coming, while a lot of workers from the tech boom sector are getting laid off.

On the other hand, the national economy looks wildly good -- pretty much anyone who wants a job can get one; wage increases are exceeding inflation. I find the national economic pessimism inexplicable. How do you explain it?

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Second Amendment history: the "taproot of gun culture"

Historian Dominic Erdozain has managed to make some important observations about a tired subject: our country's infatuation with privately owned weapons meant to kill.

... there's a value system that's current in the South before the Civil War, an honor code whereby a man is obliged culturally, socially, morally to defend his honor (and it is always him) when an insult is offered or made or even perceived in the most subtle of manners. And in the North, this was generally scorned. ...

...  after the Civil War, we start to see the spread of an honor code, this time attached to a kind of patriotic mandate, the idea that the tendency of the American mind is against retreat. And you get judges drawing rather eloquently and emotively on their Civil War experience to make a similar argument that it's unmanly, it's cowardly to retreat, and it's effeminate, and the great jurists like William Blackstone who talked about the tenderness of life and the law always existing to protect life, they are seen as kind of old world and effeminate and there's a kind of patriotic mandate for authorizing violence.

... it's a kind of romanticism of redemptive violence and this kind of Manichean idea that you have the bad people, the dangerous elements, you have the Native Americans, and then you have the less suitable White settlers from poor European backgrounds usually. And there's a kind of eugenic dimension to this, a very racialized ideology of the worthy and the unworthy. And there is the romanticism of individual force, even though historians have shown that really we should be talking more about the mild west than the wild west. Certainly there was much more violence still in the South and in the Southern states.

... I think of Edward [Teddy] Kennedy describing a gun as being unique among weapons because it's an instrument of instant and distant death, the power that allows you to kill without fighting. So yeah, there's a potency that is, I think, seductive and it's intoxicating.

... One thing I don't want to do is come across as speaking for a world that has got the solutions and I think that reading books like [Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost] about colonialism in the Congo and reading some of my own history, the British history of imperialism and slavery in the Caribbean especially, you quickly realize that had the Caribbean bordered Hampshire or Surrey or the home counties close to London everybody in Britain would own guns.

There is no question from my own research and that of many other scholars I quote in the book that slavery is the master cause or the taproot of gun culture in the United States and the reason that we don't have a gun culture back home is that the atrocities of our own empire were conducted overseas.

... But the historical truth is that the Second Amendment was really kind of an anti-war measure because the early Americans did not want America to go the way of all flesh, the way of all empires. And they feared that a military establishment would lead to imperialism. So they wanted to reduce the military and their way of doing it was to lean on citizens in a way that was never really going to be sustainable. So that's just obsolete in a way. And that explains a lot of the confusion as to why the Second Amendment came about.

H/t to Paul Waldman for the interview with Erdozain.

Friday, April 05, 2024

Friday cat blogging

The felines on the home front get a pause for a while. But here's a worthy cat contribution:

I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Abortion on the ballot in Florida -- where's Trump?

The decision of the Florida Supreme Court to allow a vote on a citizen initiative inserting a right to abortion in the state constitution raises many interesting possibilities.

According to Ballotpedia:

The initiative would provide a constitutional right to abortion before fetal viability (estimated to be around 24 weeks) or when necessary to protect the patient's health, as determined by the patient's healthcare provider.
Everywhere, even in red states like Ohio and Kansas, such "right to abortion" measures have won popular majorities when offered to the electorate. We, the majority, really don't want the Supreme Court telling legislatures they can mess with our bodies! 


The Florida measure faces a slightly more difficult hurdle than these other reproductive rights efforts. Instead of a mere majority, state rules mean that the pro-choice side needs 60 percent to win. Polls show this as tough, but possible. 

So now Florida politicians and Floridians are going to have to figure out how to navigate a campaign in which abortion rights are center stage.

Democrats and the Biden campaign are teasing that this measure puts the state in play for Democrats. Seems improbable; the state Florida Dem party is a mess, Republicans have a 800,000 person registration advantage, failed GOP presidential aspirant Ron DeSantis won the place by 20 points in 2022. But Democrats can and should have a great time demanding that Republican candidates state a clear position on the abortion measure. It divides their base. Even Republican voters will be giving the measure a small majority according to polls, while Dems and Indies do the rest; the anti-abortion side will be rabid.  

And then there's Florida resident Donald Trump. Where does he stand? Anywhere he can escape the question, apparently. According to Aaron Blake in the Washington Post:

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee has responded to this development with all the political certainty of a college freshman running for class president. And his hemming and hawing — even after effectively locking up the Republican nomination — speaks volumes about how much this sudden liability of an issue looms over the GOP’s 2024 hopes.

Trump’s campaign initially put out a statement Monday saying merely, “President Trump supports preserving life but has also made clear that he supports states’ rights, because he supports the voters’ right to make decisions for themselves.”

It’s great to support the democratic process — something that isn’t always a given with Trump — but that statement basically says nothing about his own view on the issue at hand. And when asked for more specificity Tuesday about Florida’s six-week ban, Trump played a familiar card: I’ll tell you later.

“We’ll be making a statement next week on abortion,” Trump said.

Translation: I really don’t want to talk about this, and I need to figure out my position.

... Of course, it’s no secret what’s really going on here. Trump fears this issue; he has repeatedly suggested that Republicans lose elections by going too extreme on it. .. .Trump clearly doesn’t want that to happen to him. But it’s not as if he can spend the next seven months punting on this issue. And the fact that he still doesn’t have a good, ready-made answer a month after wrapping up the GOP nomination suggests that perhaps there just isn’t one.

We need to continue to demand that the media ask Trump where he stands. 

And, if we can, to help Floridians Protecting Freedom win their campaign.  

• • •

Florida was the venue for one of my best 2020 election experiences. That pandemic year, I locked myself down at home working on the UniteHERE national phone bank. Early on, we took a few shifts calling sympathetic Floridians who someone thought might need help with how to navigate voting procedures. (Like most red states, Florida makes voting a confusing jumbles of procedural rules.)

One young woman I reached answered her phone while partying after work with her buddies in a bar. (I don't know why she answered her; people just do sometimes.) She wasn't much interested in talking about voting mechanics -- but then decided she'd test me.

"If I put my phone on speaker, will you call out to all the people in the bar?" she asked.

"Sure," says I.

So she yelled she had someone with a message. 

I hollered at the top of my lungs: "Fuck Donald Trump!" Great cheers ensued. 

I hope they all figured out how to vote ...

• • •

Sure hope the Florida campaign wins. If the new constitutional provision fails, that sharp-eyed observer of all legal perversions, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern warns that the Florida Supreme Court might decide to declare the fetal personhood of all embryos, banning not only all abortions, but also IVF and other pregnancy medical treatments. Scary times.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

"So it goes ..."

A bit from the author Margaret Atwood while I'm getting settled on the East Coast. She's become fascinated by the French Revolution; she suspects its experiments with religion have something to tell us.

  1. It’s very difficult to do away with religion altogether. You may attempt to abolish one kind, as the Revolution did, but then up pops another one — Goddess of Reason or whatever — and then another, Cult of the Supreme Being. If you’re going to have a religion, at least let’s hope it’s one that’s interested in kindness and mutual help, not just chopping people’s heads off and drowning them.

  2. Civil wars are bad, but religious civil wars are worse, because people commit atrocities in the belief that they are being virtuous.

  3. State religions are not consistent with democracy. They aren’t even consistent with religion, spiritually understood. The United States put freedom of worship into the Constitution so there wouldn’t be any attempts to force the United States into a state religion. They didn’t want religious civil wars of the kind that had been plaguing Europe since the Gutenberg printing press had given rise to splinter groups and factions.

  4. There’s a movement at present to force a state religion onto the United States. If I were you I would resist it.

More on the Cult of Reason here. James Ford, a Buddhist writer, observes:

Perhaps, of course, what could have been a very interesting experiment in rational religion devolved quickly into mob reactions to the excesses of the Roman church, and mainly featured acts of desecration, quickly descending into bad theater, and more blood spilled on the ground.

Short lived, the atheistic cult of the goddess was suppressed by order of Maximillien Robespierre as he secured power, who was himself a deist, and who wanted a cult of the supreme being instead of the atheistic cult of reason…

As the great Kurt Vonnegut once observed, “So it goes…”

Monday, April 01, 2024

Department of strange bedfellows

When you are up against the threat of fascism, you have to be willing to inhabit, always uncomfortably, a big tent. 

So these days, I find myself listening to and cheering on Never Trump folks at The Bulwark and elsewhere. They are stalwart at working to defeat Trump and MAGA and they have suffered for their determination. They have lost their tribe; that is a terrible human injury.

Yet they believe so many things I find appalling ... They think Ronald Reagan was a hero of human freedom; I think he was the butcher of Central American aspirations for justice and democracy. They think it's somehow morally wrong to forgive student debt; I think this policy is simply making whole people who've been victims of a con. They applaud Joe Biden's support for Israel's war on Palestinians; I think he's lost the moral thread.

And perhaps most counter-factually in my view, they think the racial reckoning sparked by George Floyd's murder-by-cop was mass violence unleashed. That's just hooey. According to the international Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), researchers concluded that these events, largely inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, were "overwhelmingly peaceful."

The vast majority of demonstration events associated with the BLM movement are non-violent. In more than 93% of all demonstrations connected to the movement, demonstrators have not engaged in violence or destructive activity. Peaceful protests are reported in over 2,400 distinct locations around the country. Violent demonstrations, meanwhile, have been limited to fewer than 220 locations under 10% of the areas that experienced peaceful protests. In many urban areas like Portland, Oregon, for example, which has seen sustained unrest since Floyd’s killing, violent demonstrations are largely confined to specific blocks, rather than dispersed throughout the city.

Sure, there were a few places where there was considerable violence -- in addition to a few blocks of Portland, Kenosha comes to mind. 

And there were quite a few locations where polices forces, angry at seeing their free use of excessive force challenged, reacted to protesters with violence of their own. Remember Martin Gugino, the 76-year-old white protester who had his skull cracked by Buffalo police? After video of the incident went viral, two officers were suspended, but eventually returned to duties as if nothing had happened. 

Via El Tecolote
All this is preface for a bit of unfinished business that's become current business here in the Mission. 

A hilltop San Francisco intersection will soon bear the name of Sean Monterrosa to honor the legacy and contributions of the 22-year-old man killed in 2020 by a Vallejo police officer. 

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to honor Monterrosa with a commemorative street name at Park Street and Holly Park Circle in the Bernal Heights neighborhood where he grew up. Several neighbors and residents wrote to the board to express their support. 

“Sean Monterrosa had a bright, beautiful, and limitless life ahead of him,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen, a co-sponsor of the resolution. “The passing of this item will help the community heal, serve as a positive beacon for Black and brown youth for whom Sean was a mentor, and remind our city of his great contributions.” 

Monterrosa was killed in a Walgreens parking lot in Vallejo on June 2, 2020, by Det. Jarrett Tonn, who fired five rounds from a Colt M4 Commando rifle from the backseat of an unmarked police truck, records show. A single bullet struck Monterrosa in the back of the head. Tonn told investigators that he mistook a hammer in Monterrosa’s sweatshirt for a gun.

The Vallejo police fired Tonn; he was later reinstated. No charges were filed against Tonn; evidence surrounding the killing did not survive handling by Vallejo Police Department.

That this killing happened in Vallejo should be little surprise according to KQED

Between 2010 and late 2020, Vallejo police officers killed 19 people, the second-highest rate among America’s 100 largest police forces.

Can I be excused for knowing with certainty that most of the violence of the summer of 2020 was not done by the supporters of Black Lives Matter? 

Can I work on the same team with people who've imbibed a completely different reality in which mobs trashed America? Faced with the danger to us all, I have to.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Hope is risen indeed

Let's share a reflection from an artist I know nothing about, one Scott Erickson:

... it takes an almost impossible amount of humility to let someone love you deeply.

You were not in charge of being born. You will not be in charge of when you die. You will not be in charge of being raised from the dead. What you are in charge of is removing that which is in the way of you letting yourself receive transformational Love.

You can only stand back up when you have found a firm place to stand. May the firmament that you discover to stand on be the promise that nothing, not even death, can separate you from Love.

Erickson came my way through Nadia Bolz-Weber, another teacher who knows a thing or two.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

When hope has been murdered ...

Israelis demonstrate for a ceasefire and return of the hostages of 10/7

These demonstrators, Jewish and Palestinian, are a tiny minority in their country. But they know what must be done. Nothing to do but keep on keeping on.

• • •

In +972, Meron Rapoport explains Why do Israelis feel so threatened by a ceasefire?

Until October 6, the consensus among the Jewish-Israeli public was that the “Palestinian issue” should not bother them too much. October 7 shattered this myth. The “Palestinian issue” returned, in full, bloody force, to the agenda.
There were two ostensible responses to the destruction of this status quo: a political arrangement that genuinely recognized the presence of another people in this land and their right to a life of dignity and freedom, or a war of extinction against the enemy beyond the wall. The Jewish public, which never really internalized the first option, chose the second.
In this light, the very idea of a ceasefire seems threatening. It would force the Jewish public to recognize that the goals presented by Netanyahu and the army — “toppling Hamas” and releasing the hostages through military pressure — were simply unrealistic. The public would have to concede what may be perceived as a failure, even a defeat, in the face of Hamas. After the trauma and humiliation of October 7, it is hard for many to swallow such a defeat.
But there is a deeper threat. A ceasefire could force the Jewish public to confront more fundamental questions. If the status quo does not work, and a constant war with the Palestinians cannot achieve the desired victory, then what remains is the truth: that the only way for Jews to live in security is through a political compromise that respects the rights of the Palestinians.

+972 Magazine is an independent, online, nonprofit magazine run by a group of Palestinian and Israeli journalists. ... The name of the site is derived from the telephone country code that can be used to dial throughout Israel-Palestine.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Good Friday

So the empire disposed of the Jewish troublemaker.

Historian Diana Butler Bass passed along this reflection from Dr. Reggie Williams. He is Professor of Christian Ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He is the author of Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance.

Stauros is used seventy-four times in the New Testament to describe where Jesus died ... an upright stake, like a fence post... The stauros alludes to something manmade, in the case of Jesus' execution, an element of statecraft, something developed by the occupying Roman imperial power to serve [as the]  instrument of torture and death.
... a stake defines ownership ...
Whose bodies are on the stauros? ... Jesus was one of the expendables, whose death secured the community of those comfortable with the governance of violent imperial power. 
I like to consider the spiritual, "Were you there when they crucified my lord? ... were you there when they nailed him to a tree?" ... the singer knows the grief ... but the song indicates that the stauros isn't the last word. ... Friday leads to Sunday ...