Deep and Enduring Political Swings

I’m wondering if our country has deep and enduring political swings that last 30-40 years. I think I was lulled by the gradual progressive bent that began in the 1960’s, when I reached early adulthood, and seems to have moved in the right direction ever since — until the election of Trump. I understood Dr. King’s “moral arc of the universe bending toward justice” as going in one direction only, not something that took wide zigzags back and forth.

Now we’re experiencing a sharp backlash, well funded and coordinated by white conservatives, Catholic and Evangelical true believers, augmented by malleable angry Rust Belt voters who just want to punch somebody in the nose because their lives didn’t stay the same and they’re mad about it.

Here’s a profile of one of the stalwarts of the backlash, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, the group that has worked for 40 years to fill the bench at all levels with white conservative men. Their success will make life very difficult for the next several decades for women, immigrants, Muslims, blue states, the poor — anyone who doesn’t look and sound like Kavanaugh and Gorsuch and Alito and Thomas and Roberts. Yes, there is one black man in that portrait — an angry and bitter one whose porn history and sexual harassment of women should have kept him off the bench in the first place.

Another element of the backlash is the Koch network rebranding its dark money effort to infuse the political culture with libertarian goals as “philanthropy.”

Another is the absolute conviction of religious conservatives that controlling women’s reproductive choice is the defining battle of their era — irrespective of what happens to all those unwanted babies and unwilling mothers over time. Joan Chittester, a Roman Catholic nun who’s been speaking out for decades, defines such people as “pro birth”, which is distinct from “pro life”.

The country is split pretty much down the middle, at least in terms of the way people vote. If it takes 40 years to see this current dark turn in the political and culture wars zigzag back I won’t live to see it. Sobering thought.

More on the Abortion Wars

Michelle Alexander is a New York Times opinion writer. Here, she talks eloquently and honestly about her decision to have an abortion following being raped in her dorm room at Stanford, in her first year of law school.

Her mother, to whom she turned for advice, had been raped too, at around the same age.

Alexander shared her experience with her 12 year old daughter, in response to the girl’s question about what her mother thought about the the abortion wars.

I don’t know if it would make any difference to the male Alabama legislators who voted the fetal heartbeat bill, or the legislators of any other states with similar bills, to listen to someone like Alexander. She isn’t poor, or seemingly vulnerable, or someone easily silenced. She was at Stanford, in law school. She’s a New York Times columnist. She’s strong, and bright, and courageous.

And she was raped, and impregnated, and decided to have an abortion — which was available to her in the state where she lived.

I don’t know if sharing the stories will change the heated, polarized fight over women’s reproductive freedom. But in the past, nobody talked about having an abortion. Now, women are speaking out. It has to make some difference.

Smackdown on KellyAnne Conway

I love Nancy Pelosi. She not only has a unique ability to get under Trump’s skin, she does a great smackdown with his pompous, uber-loyal, severely underqualified staff. After Trump stormed out of the infrastructure meeting, KellyAnne Conway — former Republican pollster with no particular expertise in anything other than soothing Trump and bolstering his ego — asked Speaker Pelosi if she had any response to Trump’s “points”. Pelosi responded that she’d issue her remarks directly to Trump, not to one of his underlings.

Love it. Republicans seem to need to treat Trump’s coterie of meagerly qualified friends and family as serious players, aka Jared Kushner, Princeling of Everything. Pelosi feels no such need.

Go Nancy!

Trump the Drama Queen

Trump walked out of a meeting with the Democratic leadership that had been planned to talk about infrastructure. Is he cracking under the pressure of House investigations, or is this part of his Drama Queen act to rile up his base? Or a bit of both?

Who knows. The show on his end was definitely planned. He has nothing to bring to the table about infrastructure, so he had to create a diversion. But he also might be cracking. People with narcissistic personality disorder can be pushed over the edge by two things: the feeling that they are not in control, and the fear of being exposed as a sham. I’d say Trump is in danger of both.

I think Dems should continue pushing the investigations hard, just in case there’s a chance that the mere existence of multiple investigations will send him over the cliff. People are knocking on so many doors of his shady and miserable life — all they have to do is crack one open, and I suspect the whole fake edifice that is The Donald will come crashing down.

Making Money on the Lives of the Poor

The subprime mortgage scandal that almost tanked the economy in 2008 gave way to a new one: the New York city taxi medallion scandal of 2019.

“Medallion prices rose above $1 million before crashing in late 2014, wiping out the futures of thousands of immigrant drivers and creating a crisis that has continued to ravage the industry today. Despite years of warning signs, at least seven government agencies did little to stop the collapse, The New York Times found.

Instead, eager to profit off medallions or blinded by the taxi industry’s political connections, the agencies that were supposed to police the industry helped a small group of bankers and brokers to reshape it into their own moneymaking machine, according to internal records and interviews with more than 50 former government employees.

For more than a decade, the agencies reduced oversight of the taxi trade, exempted it from regulations, subsidized its operations and promoted its practices, records and interviews showed.

Their actions turned one of the best-known symbols of New York — its signature yellow cabs — into a financial trap for thousands of immigrant drivers. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records, and many more struggle to stay afloat.”

Immigrant drivers form the backbone of the short hop driving industry in major cities, not just New York, but here in Seattle as well. Immigrants drive medallion cabs, gypsy cabs, Uber and Lyft. Their labor is typically the entry point into the U.S economy, where limited English and credentials from other countries that often don’t transfer make job opportunities limited.

Someone is making a lot of money from the labor of these largely unprotected workers, but it’s generally not the driver.

When I’m out and about during the day here in Seattle, I generally walk or take the bus. But after dark if I’m downtown, I call an Uber or Lyft to get home. The three blocks I have to walk from the bus stop are safe, I suppose, but very dark and typically deserted — even if it’s not very late. I just don’t feel comfortable doing it.

I often engage the driver, asking how his driving day has gone — drivers for both Uber and Lyft are largely male. A few are chirpy and upbeat and filled with the hope of taking on the world. Most are more sober, and surprisingly honest. The driver who brought me home the other night at around 10:30pm after a movie was particularly down. He said he was very tired, that he worked long hours and it was hard to make enough money to take care of his wife and children. He drives seven days a week, and he doesn’t see them much. We talked a little bit more, as I was mentally calculating his take from my ride. I had a 10% off promotion coupon for the fare. The tab was $6.10 with the coupon, of which he gets maybe half? I gave him a $3 tip, which I hope goes all to him. Out of that he has to pay for his own gas, insurance, and wear and tear on the car. There were bottles of water in the back seat for passengers to take. I didn’t. My ride was about 10 minutes, just up the hill from the movies. He wasn’t guaranteed another pickup until his app pinged him with the location of a prospective passenger.

Someone is making money on his labor, but it’s hard to see how it’s him. I thanked him for a safe ride, and he changed his driving status to “available” and went back to looking for a new ride.

Trump’s Provocation

Trump’s stonewalling of any House-led inquiry into his behavior is clearly an attempt to goad House Dems into impeaching him — an issue he sees as a winner with his base. He’s a lot rather go into the 2020 election ginning up the crazies at his rallies with conspiracy theories about the deep state trying to rip the presidency from him than talk about his meager accomplishments and the constant corruption in his administration.

Speaker Pelosi is still right that there’s no groundswell of public support for impeachment, no Republicans other than Justin Amash on board, and that Dems won the House in 2018 by talking about the issues, not about Trump’s behavior.

The counter argument is that Trump has always overshot the mark with his risky behavior, needing to be bailed out by his father, Deutsche Bank, the NJ state legislature who overlooked his mob connections to get casinos built in Atlantic City, and others. There’s plenty to suggest that he’s overshooting the mark here in terms of his dare to the Dems, and that there’s a lot of meat on the bone for impeachment hearings. The other argument is that there was not much public support for impeaching Nixon either; that support was built through the daily televised hearings. Even when Nixon resigned, something like 35% of Republicans still supported him.

Nixon did resign, and Trump never would. He’d take the country down in flames first. And there are no Barry Goldwater Republicans now in elected office to hold Trump to account.

Still a tricky call, and still Speaker Pelosi’s to make.

Seattle International Film Festival: QBall

California’s San Quentin prison is where all the state’s death row inmates are housed, but there are 4000+ other prisoners, mostly men of color, who will someday get out. As the prison superintendent asks, how do we want them to rejoin society — angry, embittered, without chances? Or having had some opportunity to develop better life skills, a way to use their gifts, and with some hope that they might yet have a future?

The San Quentin Warriors, the prison’s basketball team, draws men who, in another world, might have been NBA players. They are very good, great even. At the end of their season, they play men from the Golden State Warriors of the NBA — not the Kevin Durants, but a team made up of coaches and players on the developmental leagues for the NBA team. The game is important to everyone.

QBall profiles players on the prison team, showing them as human beings who’ve made grave errors. Some have killed. Some are in prison for life due to California’s “three strike” law. They struggle to forgive themselves, and with the realization that some of the victims of their crimes, or the families of their victims, will never forgive them, never want to see them paroled.

This is a powerful documentary. At the end, one of the QBall stars gets out after serving 12 years of his sentence. He’s 31. He has a loving family who greet him just outside the prison walls and take him to eat pancakes. He’s won a tryout for the Golden State Warriors D league. He has a daughter who doesn’t know him, a child he hopes to find so he can be a good father, a responsible father.

I was thinking, as I watched, how hard it is to go from the structure and support of the prison experience — the QBall players become family to each other — to the outside world. In the credits we find that the young man doesn’t make the cut for the Warriors developmental team, not because he isn’t good but likely because he’s too old at 31. As the film ends he hasn’t yet got a job, or a place to live other than with his mother. He can’t make a single misstep, or he’ll be back in prison. He doesn’t know where his daughter is, or how to go about locating her.

He has a lot going for him, more than the average formerly incarcerated young man, but his path to a decent future seems so very, very narrow.

The Poor Women and Children of Alabama

If Alabama legislators and Governor Kay Ivey were actually pro-life, they would do something about the miserable health, educational, and economic outcomes for the poor women and children of their state. Instead, the new bill criminalizing abortion and creating “personhood” for an implanted embryo  will make life in Alabama much, much harder.

Clearly you can’t appeal to these legislators on the basis of decency, or humanity. The only way I can think of is to introduce a raft of bills that will direct scarce state tax dollars to these newly-declared persons: health benefits. Child support. Passports. Social Security cards. Welfare and food stamps. Voter registration cards. The sky’s the limit.

The legislators and Governor Ivey will certainly swat such bills aside. But the hypocrisy will be all the more clear.

The problem is that organizing like that takes money, and volunteers, and effort. These are big asks in the lives of poor people. There was a constituency of young energetic people, during the 1960’s, to mobilize against the draft and the Viet Nam war. There was a constituency in the South for voting rights and to end lynching. There was a constituency, after Stonewall, for gay rights.

There’s no big, energetic constituency to advocate for the lives of poor women and children, not then, not now.

I’ve seen articles suggesting that young people flocking to cities of the “new South” because of the cheaper cost of living will no longer want to live there now that the South’s deeply ingrained racism and misogyny come roaring back to the surface, that corporations won’t be able to hire and attract young people as these ugly laws are enacted. That’s a pretty thin reed of hope for the poor.

Trump’s Essential Cruelty

What is the matter with this man, who has inexplicably won the uncritical fealty of religious conservatives? Trump has apparently involved himself in the minute details of the proposed wall, demanding that it be painted black so the metal slats will be too hot to climb, that it be 30 feet high so people will be more badly injured if they fall, that there be sharp spikes on top so the hands of those who reach the top will be sliced to ribbons.

He relishes these details, with all of their inherent cruelty, thinking up new twists to cause pain wherever he can.

I hardly know where to begin.

The Dystopian Future of Reproductive Rights

Even Romania has stopped the dystopian approach to women’s reproductive health that has become so appealing to the newly emboldened red states under Trump.

In 1966, the leader of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, outlawed access to abortion and contraception in a bid to boost the country’s population. In the short term, it worked, and the year after it was enacted the average number of children born to Romanian women jumped from 1.9 to 3.7. But birthrates quickly fell again as women found ways around the ban. Wealthy, urban women were sometimes able to bribe doctors to perform abortions, or they had contraceptive IUDs smuggled in from Germany.

Yet Romania’s prohibition of the procedure was disproportionately felt by low-income women and disadvantaged groups, which abortion-rights advocates in the United States fear would happen if the Alabama law came into force. As a last resort, many Romanian women turned to home and back-alley abortions, and by 1989, an estimated 10,000 women had died as a result of unsafe procedures. The real number of deaths might have been much higher, as women who sought abortions and those who helped them faced years of imprisonment if caught. Maternal mortality skyrocketed, doubling between 1965 and 1989.”

No less tragic was the effect on the lives of Romanian children.

Another consequence of Romania’s abortion ban was that hundreds of thousands of children were turned over to state orphanages. When communism collapsed in Romania in 1989, an estimated 170,000 children were found warehoused in filthy orphanages. Having previously been hidden from the world, images emerged of stick-thin children, many of whom had been beaten and abused. Some were left shackled to metal bed frames.”

The notion that mostly white male Republican legislators who enact these things into law are “pro life” is belied by the fact that their states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Utah, Kentucky, Arkansas, Ohio — already have higher maternal and child mortality rates than the rest of the country. These laws aren’t a statement about life. They’re a statement about controlling women’s health, women’s fertility, women’s right to make decisions about our own bodies.

Trump and his supporters represent a vicious backlash against progress in a number of areas: civil rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights.

If young women have taken the progress of recent decades for granted, they can hardly do so any more.