Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The tiny dinosaurs we share a world with

Don't miss this current article from Erudite Partner in the LA Progressive:

... Many of us, myself included a few times a year, do eat birds, but an extraordinary number of people all over the world are also beguiled and delighted by them in their wild state. People deeper into bird culture than I am make a distinction between birdwatchers — anyone who pays a bit of attention to birds and can perhaps identify a few local species like the handsome rock dove, better known as a pigeon — and birders, people who devote time (and often money) to the practice, who may travel to see particular birds, and who most likely maintain a birding life list of every species they’ve spotted.

Mandy and Lara Sirdah of Gaza City are birders. Those twin sisters, now in their late forties, started photographing birds in their backyard almost a decade ago....

If it weren’t for the Israeli occupation — and now the full-scale war ... Gaza would be ideal for birding. ...

Who knew? -- don't you want to know more? I certainly did.

I don't see women putting up with this indefinitely

A cry from rural Missouri.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Tender feelings among phony "conservatives" underlie assault on democracy

The right wing Heritage Foundation has undertaken to mobilize a broad swath of conservative academics and a goodly number of cranks to write a blueprint for a prospective Trump administration. They call it Project 2025. The document has been widely reported on; if you are a real glutton for punishment, you can download it yourself, though I doubt anyone else is much up for 900 pages of this stuff. 

European political scientist Thomas Zimmer, who is a visiting prof at Georgetown University, is closely observing the U.S. scene. He provides this commentary on the plan:

There is a nervous energy on the Right. A volatile mix of desperation and enthusiasm, delusions of grandeur and a feeling of impending doom – all of it being channeled into a feverish effort to devise detailed plans and strategies, policy agendas, personnel databases, and emergency “playbooks” for a return to power.

... reactionaries are actually united by the desire to punish their enemies, “take back” the country, and restore the “natural order” of unquestioned white Christian patriarchal rule – a unity that is indicative of a broader realignment on the Right towards an aggressive embrace of state authoritarianism. ...

This tendency to embrace the coercive powers of the state as long as they were deployed in service of the rightwing agenda has escalated in the more recent past, as the sense of being under siege as a persecuted minority in their own country has radicalized on the Right. Conservative elites have always cultivated a sense of (self-)victimization, have displayed a remarkable persecution complex even while holding disproportionate power, at least politically and economically, often focused on the cultural sphere they didn’t manage to dominate.

Until quite recently, this overall feeling among conservatives of being victimized was accompanied by a sense of representing the majority will of the people – of having the infamous “silent majority” on their side. The “silent majority” idea was obviously based on a racialized conception of America’s true volk. It was the majority of only those who *really* counted the Right claimed or cared to represent – a group that was predominantly white, Christian, and espoused certain conservative values and sensibilities that were coded as authentically American. And yet, the “silent majority” chimera at least paid lip service to some notion of majoritarian government and therefore, at least rhetorically, recognized democratic principles. That’s completely gone, in theory and practice.

Conservatives have basically moved from criticizing “big government” and “activist judges” for going against the will of the “silent majority” to declaring the majority illegitimate and accusing it of assaulting the natural order as justification for their attempts to entrench minoritarian rule by whatever means.

... this would not be the same Right that came to power in 2017. That starts with Trump himself. The idea that he has always been the same, just Trump being Trump, is massively misleading and obscures the rather drastic radicalization of the Right’s undisputed leader. Beyond Trump, the Right more generally has significantly radicalized. The idea that more drastic action is urgently needed has been spreading fast into the center of conservative politics. The summer of 2020, specifically, escalated this perception of imminent threat: It has become a key element of rightwing political identity to view the protests that erupted after the murder of George Floyd as supposedly irrefutable proof that “the Left” has started its full-on assault, justifying calls for ever more extreme action in response. This radicalization has found its manifestation in the Republican Party.

... The best approach to understanding the Right has always been to take seriously and actually grapple with their vision for American society. In that sense, “Project 2025” is tremendously helpful. Rightwing leaders could not possibly be clearer about the reactionary vision they want to impose on the country. They are telling us that they do not accept this egalitarian, pluralistic idea of a society in which the individual’s status is no longer determined by race, gender, religion, and wealth. They feel justified in taking truly radical, extreme measures to prevent that society from ever becoming a reality because they believe they are defending “real America” in service of a higher purpose: To restore and entrench what they see as the natural order and divine will, as it manifests in strict, discriminatory hierarchies.

The reactionary mobilization against democratic multiracial pluralism won’t stop because the people behind it have some sort of epiphany that they shouldn’t go *that* far. It will either *be stopped* or succeed in entrenching white Christian patriarchal rule – and install a system in which only they and those who reflect their image back at them are entitled to rule and be recognized as equal.

Scary stuff. As is usual when previously unchallenged dominant men let themselves be governed by fear. Also, all too much like the BS that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was peddling the other day in the arguments over whether a president should enjoy absolute immunity from prosecution for illegal acts aiming to stay in power.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Demagogues, ideologues, racists, and grifters past

The dire prospect of yet another Trump campaign season brings out historical-political observers who remind us that destructive populist energy run amuck in the Republican Party is nothing new.

Trump is not a unique figure in American history. In each generation, anti-liberal forces have turned to the same breed of demagogue, the flouter of norms, the boorish trampler of liberal nostrums. William Buckley noted that the very “uncouthness” of George Wallace seemed to “account for his general popularity.” James Burnham marveled at how Joseph McCarthy’s “inept acts and ignorant words” had a “charismatic” quality that well expressed the fears and angers of his devoted followers.
What their critics saw as boorishness and malevolence, however, their followers saw as strength and defiance against a liberal system stacked against them. They were rebellious opponents of the system, “wreckers,” unabashedly anti-liberal in both thought and manner, and that is precisely what made them popular among a broad swath of White Americans who felt themselves losing ground in the culture and society... -- Robert Kagan 

• • •

The fact is that for a very long time—longer than I’ve been alive—the Republican Party has been motivated by the drive to tap into and mobilize populist energy bubbling up from the “grassroots” and then ride it to power. Populism in this sense is a revolutionary impulse—a drive to rise up in rage-filled rebellion against entrenched, established powers, allies against enemies, us against them. Barry Goldwater was the first to attempt it. -- Damon Linker
Looking back from our moment, Rick Perlstein's 2001 history, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, fills in the record of one episode in the GOP's long course of replacing most policy goals with rage-driven rebellion against modern American life.  

In 1964, right wing operatives -- John Birch Society and other fringe-ish cranks -- needed a standard bearer if they were going to break into the mainstream. Senator Goldwater was a far right libertarian out of phase with the eastern, capitalist, urban leadership of the Republican Party. He looked strong and was seriously ambitious, but also was determined to do things his own way. 

The election was always going to be tough for Republicans -- the incumbent Lyndon Johnson had inherited the presidency from the assassinated John Kennedy. People were still reeling from the shock. But the war in Vietnam was heating up and the non-violent movement for African American rights and dignity had escaped the South, leading to urban unrest. There might have been an opening for a less divisive Republican, Johnson was a master of turning social unease to his advantage (and in many respects was a pretty darn good president for most citizens).

According to Perlstein, the right wing outsiders organized highly competently to get Goldwater nominated at a populist GOP convention. But they never managed to entirely take over the campaign apparatus. So during the run up to the vote, it was often as if the populist grassroots were running in parallel to, rather than pushing from behind, their champion. There was plenty of venting of white rage and fear, but Johnson was able to use this energy against the Republican, defining Goldwater as a war-mongering menace.

The numbers were spectacular: 43,126,218 votes for Johnson to 27,174,898 for Goldwater, who won only six states -- one of them, Arizona, by half a percent.
Democrats cleaned up down ballot as well, winning overwhelming advantages in Congress. In consequence, in 1965, they passed Medicare and the Voting Rights Act which enabled Black suffrage (until the current Supreme Court killed it off).

Perlstein writes a very detailed narrative of these events, fascinating if the nuts and bolts of political campaigns interest the reader. In reading such history, I'm always reminded that though the technology of campaigning changes, its essence -- harnessing mass political energies into effective action -- remains the same. 

Where and how might you work to defeat Trump's current right wing threat this fall? (I'm still figuring it out.)

• • •

In 1964, when the radical right John Birch Society was near the peak of its influence, renowned journalist Martha Gellhorn, who had launched her career covering the Spanish civil war three decades earlier, wrote a friend: “Unless there’s a Johnson landslide, the country and world will know how many incipient and energetic home-grown Fascists we have. I never for a moment feared Communism in the US but have always feared Fascism; it’s a real American trait. -- via Karen Tumulty

Saturday, April 27, 2024

A stroll through the Sculpture Garden

I had heard there was a sculpture garden somewhere up in the Chilmark woods. Yesterday I found myself walking through it.
The gate came with some admonitions:
And there I was, walking paths among dozens of improbable denizens, large and small:
I encountered no living dragons, or other humans for that matter. This, still barren, early spring makes for a splendid moment to walk among some artist's fantasies.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Friday cat blogging

I asked whether it would be okay to take a snap of the bookstore cat.

"Oh, yes. Visitors do that all the time," said the clerk.

The animal slept on, next to its stuffed friend, oblivious to an admirer.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Many Israelis are not European-origin white people.

And too much of American discourse about the present horrific phase of the long Israeli/Palestinian war tries to shove the conflict into a framework derived from U.S. racial history, a Black/White binary.

Insisting that this terrible conflict is different than U.S. experience and carries its own complications in no way justifies Israel's current brutal effort to simply eradicate or expel the people of Gaza and the West Bank. Nor does it justify hostage taking and vengeance raids. I'm tempted to say there aren't any good guys, though the work of the Jewish and Palestinian group Standing Together may point to better possibilities.

Standing Together on the Gaza border: marching for LIFE, PEACE, FREEDOM & SAFETY FOR ALL. "We need to end the war. We need to end the occupation. We need to end this cycle of violence and killing. We need a real, just peace that gives everyone a future here - Palestinians and Israelis." via Xitter
But it isn't adequate to think of the hell of the two clashing nations as indigenous dark Palestinians rising up against white Jewish intruders. Both justice and compassion require a more nuanced view.

John Ganz [@lionel_trolling], historian and Xitter pundit extraordinaire, has attempted to recomplicate the agony of Israel/Palestine in simplified form. I've excerpted some of this here, but urge those concerned to Read the Whole Thing.

... as many others have pointed out, the more than half of Israeli Jews—between 50% or 55%—are Mizrahim or Sephardim, rather than Ashkenazim.
... The fact that most of the Israeli population is of non-European descent—including a sizable population of Ethiopian Jews—somewhat complicates the picture given by some Western activists of Israel as a white supremacist settler-colonial state lording it over darker peoples. The Mizrahi population tends to be more religious, more conservative, less educated, less prosperous, and to vote for right-wing parties, like Likud, Shas and the Judeo-Fascist Otzma Yehudit, headed by the national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, himself of Mizrahi descent. ...
... Mizrahi and other non-European Jews are also more likely to be IDF combat troops involved in the most dangerous and violent missions in the occupied territories and Gaza: They do a lot of the grunt work of repression. ...
 ... “Living in Israel is for us, coming from Arab countries, the continuation of our Jewish identity. Whereas the programme presented by the left is cosmopolitan - in which nationalism is overcome - we, Mizrahi Jews, do not relate at all to this discourse, in which human and civil rights come before our Jewish identity,” as one Likud activist told Middle East Eye.
... To understand why the Mizrahim became so right wing and nationalist, we have to look to the process by which they became integrated into Israeli society and politics. In the wake of the U.N. Partition vote of 1947 and the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, some 900,000 Jews from the Middle East fled their homes. Around two thirds of these would end up in Israel. When they arrived, the Israeli state was dominated by the largely Ashkenazi founding generation, figures you will have heard of like David Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, and Golda Meir. The Ashkenazi elite had a paternalistic and prejudiced attitude towards their newly arrived cousins, who were often extremely poor and uneducated. ...
... It would be a mistake, however, to put too much weight on the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi distinction as the sole explanatory factor in Israeli politics. The ethnic issue is often a proxy for other things. A recent study shows that as educational attainment rises, voting behavior starts to look the same. Some argue that increasing rate of mixed marriages is reducing the saliency of ethnic politics. Not all class differences map easily onto these ethnic differences: for instance, Iraqi Jews are often part of the elite. One should also not map Mizrahi onto “Settler” or Religious Zionist: Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich is the head of the more Ashkenazi National Religious Party. ...
Click to get a look at Smotrich
Would it matter if we learned a more nuanced view of the agony we watch and seek to impede from here? Perhaps not. But more truth still seems better to me  ...

It's beginning to feel a little 1968ish ...

Republican politicians are licking their chops. They hope beating up on protesting college students will distract their fellow citizens while their leader sits in a dingy New York court room defending a sordid con. Meanwhile the economy chugs along and majorities tell pollsters we're feeling pretty good about our individual lives. Gotta raise the temperature. Beat up on some students ...

Via the Austin American

This dodge has succeeded before. Last time we got Richard Nixon and it took every intact strand in the democratic fabric of the rule of law to evict him. This time they want to ride a stupid, sociopathic, toddler-strong man. 

They want to leverage genuine moral outrage over Gaza for their ugly purposes. Escalating violence on campuses is not the students' fault, even if some are unthinking and overwrought. 

Atlantic editor Adam Server cuts to the essence of the moment:

... As we approach the summer of 2024, the economy is growing, migration to the border has declined at least temporarily owing to what appears to be a new crackdown by Mexican authorities, and in many major cities, crime is returning to historic lows, leaving protests as the most suitable target for demagoguery. The Biden administration’s support for Israel divides Democrats and unites Republicans, so the longer the issue remains salient, the better it is for the GOP.
More broadly, the politics of “American carnage” do not work as well in the absence of carnage. Far-right politics operate best when there is a public perception of disorder and chaos, an atmosphere in which the only solution such politicians ever offer can sound appealing to desperate voters. Social-media bubbles can suffice to maintain this sense of siege among the extremely online, but cultivating this perception among most voters demands constant reinforcement.

This is why the Republican Party is constantly seeking to play up chaos at the border and an epidemic of crime in American cities, no matter what the reality of the situation might actually be. ... any escalation in chaos would redound to their political benefit. They don’t want to solve any problems; they want to make them worse so that the public will warm to “solutions” that will continue to make them worse. They don’t want order, or safety, or peace. What they want is carnage.

They want carnage and they'll make it where it doesn't yet exist. They want to use protesting students in their theater of carnage. And when your cause is just, it's hard not to play.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

We entertain visitors

or perhaps they entertain us.

Mature deer seem most likely to come by at dawn.

There's something among the sparse grass they find edible.

On a rainy afternoon, a younger generation shows up, oblivious to observers inside windows.

This island is home to far too many deer. They serve as a vector for Lyme-infected ticks which are an ever present hazard. A short fall deer hunting season does little to keep the population down.

But for us from the big cities, sharing the land with them has a superficial charm.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Recycling that could become self-sustaining

It's hard to stay enthusiastic about urban recycling when you've seen urban trash haulers just dump your recycling into the same truck with the solid waste.

But industrial recycling may well be an important part of our response to climate change. Instead of proliferating waste, let's hope our eager engineers can figure out how to make money off it.

Such a thing may be underway in north western Nevada, a region fast becoming a tech-industrial hub.  

According to Bloomberg

In the scrublands of western Nevada, Tesla co-founder JB Straubel stood on a bluff overlooking several acres of neatly stacked packs of used-up lithium-ion batteries, out of place against the puffs of sagebrush dotting the undulating hills. As if on cue, a giant tumbleweed rolled by. It was the last Friday of March, and Straubel had just struck black gold.
Earlier that day, his battery-recycling company, Redwood Materials, flipped the switch on its first commercial-scale line producing a fine black powder essential to electric vehicle batteries. Known as cathode active material, it’s responsible for a third of the cost of a battery. Redwood plans to manufacture enough of the stuff to build more than 1.3 million EVs a year by 2028, in addition to other battery components that have never been made in the US before.
It’s a turning point for a US battery supply chain that’s currently beholden to China. ... Redwood is attempting to break that stranglehold by creating a domestic loop using recycled critical metals.
... EVs already have a much smaller environmental footprint than internal combustion cars, even in countries that still get most of their electricity from coal. While the toll of mining the raw materials for batteries is considerable, more than 95% of the key minerals can be profitably recycled.
At Redwood, nothing goes to landfill, and no water leaves the facility except the sanitary waste from sinks and toilets. There are no gas lines; everything is electric. It’s also built for scale, allowing the company to quickly break down a truckload of assorted batteries without manual sorting or tedious disassembly.
Recyclers will eventually need to match the pace of car factories. For example, a Tesla factory just 250 miles away in Fremont, California, produced 560,000 EVs last year — more than one every minute. When it’s time for those cars to be recycled, they will generate almost 10 times as much EV battery material as the entire US market processed last year. If recyclers can handle all of that, they would begin to rival traditional mining operations.
“Once we've changed over the entire vehicle fleet to electric, and all those minerals are in consumption, we’ll only have to replace a couple percent each year that’s lost in the process,” said Colin Campbell, Redwood’s chief technology officer and the former head of powertrain engineering at Tesla. “It will become obvious to everyone that it doesn't make sense to dig it out of the ground anymore.”

My emphasis. This Bloomberg article goes on to raise the considerable obstacles that battery entrepreneurs could encounter, including reaching necessary scale to supply the new industry, while China may find it in its interest to undercut the costs of their output.  

But it's happening ... and subsidized by the legislation that the Biden Administration squeezed out of Congress to underwrite sustainability. Weird that a government led by a white haired old guy is so forward looking, but there it is.

By way of Bill McKibben.

Monday, April 22, 2024


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.