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American Rescue Plan passes House, by a hair

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I watched the debate last night in the House of Representatives on Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, AKA the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

Republicans, predictably, resisted it to the bitter end; not a single one of the Insurrectionists voted for it. They couldn’t criticize it for content, because they can’t: America needs that infusion of money to recover from the pandemic. Instead, Republicans resorted to their usual insults and smears. A Texas rightwinger called ARP “The Democrats’ Blue State Bailout Bill,” as though red states don’t need help.

Another rightwinger called the bill “Democrat pet projects.” Not DemocratIC, Democrat. No Republican has called the party by its proper name—the Democratic Party—for years. What is wrong with them? It’s so immature, like snot-nosed bullies in the schoolyard playground. Maybe I’ll start calling the opposition the Republic Party.

Abortion? Another rightwinger, this time from New Jersey, went into a rant about tearing babies apart. Whatever your views on a woman’s right to choose, we’re talking about relief from the ravages of the pandemic, not abortion. Let us not forget—History won’t—that this pandemic got as bad as it did because Trump ignored it, downplayed it, lied about it, and played golf as it mowed down Americans by the hundreds of thousands.

The Oklahoma far right neo-fascist, Tom Cole, again referred to the Democrat “wish list” and “misguided bloated spending.” He also complained about Republicans being shut out of the debate. What a joke. For the last four years, when Republicans controlled the Senate and the White House, they gave the middle finger to Democrats and involved them in nothing. Now that they’ve lost control of both, they’ve discovered the need for bipartisanship!

“The majority insists it’s their way or the highway,” Cole whined. Tell that to Merrick Garland.

“It’s Christmas again,” another rightwinger, Steve Womack, complained. “These liberal promises” is how he described the bill—as if all Americans don’t stand to benefit. Republicans never understand that the wealth of America should be for one purpose: to benefit the American people. With so much economic pain, the people need money in their pockets. Our cities and states need the money to provide services. Our healthcare providers need the money to give us the vaccine. But Republicans have never worked for the people, despite their lies that they’re the party of the working class. No, they’re not. They’re the party of billionaires, tax-dodging CEOs and evangelicals.

Guthrie of Kentucky, another rightwing Trump tool, referred—as an example of pork—to “the Silicon Valley subway.” What is this “Silicon Valley subway”? A clever phrase. In reality, the “subway” is a continuation of BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit district, which provides public transit to the Bay Area. The ARP includes money to put this extension beneath the city of San Jose. Now, BART has been a blessing for decades, the same way other subway systems have been in New York, Boston, Chicago, D.C. and many other American cities. A portion of the Bay Area in Silicon Valley is the last stretch that hasn’t yet been linked by BART. Republicans, who don’t like Silicon Valley anyway because they think that they’re all liberals (or maybe it’s because people in Silicon Valley—unlike Republicans—are educated) are against this funding, and the only way they have of attacking it is to call it “the Silicon Valley subway,” the kind of phrase carefully researched to make people mad. A subway for billionaires! Who wouldn’t hate that?

Of course, all the Republicans in the House voted against the American Rescue Plan. They just can’t stand spending money on ordinary people—even when those ordinary people are their own constituents. It will be a matter for historians to understand why so many Americans voted against their own interests. How many people in rural red districts are working at McDonald’s or WalMart who could benefit enormously from an increase in the minimum wage? But how many of them have been persuaded by Republicans that raising the minimum wage is “socialist” or “anti-Christian”? That’s how insane these rightwing politics have become.

Voting on the American Rescue Plan went on into late last night, even as “The Crazy Convention,” as CNN accurately called the neo-nazi CPAC meeting this weekend in Florida, began, allowing Trump to again incite insurrection. The House vote was close until past the zero minute. It’s not clear to me why so many Democrats waited so long to cast their deciding votes. With no time remaining, Republicans were still beating the Act by 8 votes. But Democrats, in a near-empty Chamber depending on proxy voting, eventually edged out. When Rep. Maxine Waters, the L.A. Democrat, rose to speak about the American Rescue Plan, she said, “Republicans, you ought to be a part of this, but if you’re not, we’re doing it without you.” She spoke for me. In the end, with Speaker Nancy showing up in Kelly green to gavel it in, the House at 12:21 a.m. passed HR 1319, on a 219-212 vote. The American Rescue Plan of 2021 now goes to the Senate. Stay tuned!


The San Francisco Chronicle told me

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It’s so obvious what Republicans are doing concerning Jan. 6: they’re blaming anyone and anything they can find, except for the one person who actually caused and incited the Insurrection: Donald Trump.

Never mind that everyone in his right mind knows that this was entirely Trump’s doing. The violence, destruction and death were desired by him. But Republicans are in the cognitively-dissonant place where admitting reality would make their little heads explode. So whose fault was Jan. 6? The Capitol Police’s! Or their leadership’s. Or Pelosi’s. Or the FBI’s. And besides, all those warriors attempting to overthrow the government? They weren’t even Trump supporters! They were Antifa, cleverly disguised as Trump supporters in their MAGA hats and carrying their Confederate flags. How do we know this? Because some thug said so on the Internet.

The first news I get every morning is from the San Francisco Chronicle. The paper edition, if you please. I could get more up-to-date news by switching on the T.V. but I grew up reading newspapers at the breakfast table and I love it. This morning’s Chron tells me that Republicans in Congress are “pushing back” on Pelosi’s plan to establish a 9/11-type commission to study the causes of Jan. 6. It looks like the sticking point is the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who will serve on the commission. Pelosi’s plan would have 7 Democrats on the 11-person body; Republicans want an even split. Before you say, “That sounds reasonable,” consider two things: first, most Republicans continue to claim the election was rigged and that Trump actually won, so why would you want delusional idiots on a high-level commission? Second, these are the same Republicans who played the hardest of hardball during Trump’s four years. Remember Merrick Garland? That stain on the Republican Party should have made it toxic forever; certainly, it was an example of McConnell’s realpolitik philosophy that “Elections have consequences. We won, and we’re going to do it our way.” So, set in this context, why the hell shouldn’t Democrats have more commission members? We won last November, and we can do it our way.

Today’s Chron also has an interesting little story, courtesy of the New York Times, on how Biden is changing language and images in U.S. government publications and websites to more accurately and fairly represent the diversity of America—a diversity the white supremacist “christian” Trump regime tried to bury. A website for the Bureau of Land Management now portrays a river instead of a Trumpian wall of coal. The Interior Department now capitalizes the “T” in “Tribal.” Visitors to the White House website are asked which pronouns they prefer: she/her, he/him or they/them. “It’s all part of a concerted effort…to rebrand the government after four years of President Donald Trump.” As an American, I feel good about that. Trump and his deplorables tried their hardest to steal America away. President Biden is giving us our country back. Words and images do matter.

Then there’s the Chron’s front-page article on the stimulus package that Republicans are resisting because they never like spending a whole bunch of money unless it’s in the form of tax breaks for billionaires and corporations. California stands to benefit enormously from Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Mainly this would be in the form of money for transit systems, in a state that depends on transit for its very existence. From what I can tell, even Republicans in rural states like Wyoming want their share of the money, but they can’t admit it publicly, because they’re supposed to be fiscal conservatives. So they rant against the stimulus, but privately they’re thankful that the Democrats might use reconciliation to pass it over GOP objections. Isn’t it sad when these Republicans can’t even be honest about their constituents’ own interests? They’re so conflicted over what’s happened with Trump, they’ve turned into human pretzels.

Finally, on the op-ed pages, readers are celebrating the San Francisco School Board’s embarrassing decision to reverse its hated policy of renaming public schools. When the public learned that this secretive, largely unaccountable bureaucracy was planning on nixing names such as Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington and [even!] Feinstein because they—the board members—thought those individuals were racists, the public arose in fury. It’s rare for San Franciscans to be united about anything, but in this case, they saw the school board for what it was: a bunch of cancel-culture ideologues who can’t figure out how to reopen the schools, but can waste time with such trivial pursuits. There’s now a major recall effort against some of the board members, and the board also is being sued by the city for not reopening. So, as I said, the board has halted the renaming process—temporarily, they say—to focus “exclusively” on reopening.

Well, the school board saw the handwriting on the wall, and caved. At the very least, that makes them morally superior to national Republicans, who did not see the handwriting on the wall from the last election (including Georgia) and are not caving on anything. They continue to be sycophants to the spider brooding in its hole at Mar-a-Lago. We’ll learn more this weekend when the spider emerges to talk to a conservative audience of idiots, insurrectionists, religious nutbags and racists. But I think we already know what the spider will say: the same old lies.


A poster boy for radical Christian rightwingers: Tom Cotton

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Senator Tom Cotton is upset. is On Fox News’ website, he called Joe Biden’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, Xavier Becerra, “a partisan culture warrior” and said that he, Cotton–an ultra-conservative Republican from Arkansas—will lead the charge in the Senate to defeat Becerra.

Well, okay: from Cotton’s perspective, the fact that Becerra is a moderately liberal Democrat makes him “a partisan culture warrior.” But that’s not the only reason Cotton, a Methodist, is down on Becerra. He’s also upset by what he views as Becerra’s cancel-culture attitude toward Christianity. “The common thread of Xavier Becerra’s tenure as the attorney-general of California,” he said in the San Francisco Chronicle, “is that he uses law to target his enemies, which curiously enough always seem to be people of faith and pro-lifers and other social conservatives.”

Religious conservatives always complain that Democrats are biased against them, the implication being that Democrats are atheists or religion-haters. This is a potent charge, since more than 70% of Americans identify as Christian.

But is it true? For starters, Becerra himself is Christian—specifically, Roman Catholic—so it’s odd to claim he’s targeting people of faith. And yet, Cotton is only the tip of the spear of the Trump-Republican movement, which weeks ago lined up to defeat Becerra. That far-right movement is well-organized and playing from the same book. For example, here are the opening lines of Cotton’s op-ed piece on Fox News:

Joe Biden campaigned on pledges to unite the country and defeat the pandemic; he continues to stress these twin priorities. But his nominee to be secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, is a partisan culture warrior who undermines both pledges.”

And here are the opening lines from a rightwing columnist, Chris Nagavonski, writing on the conservative Acton Institute Powerblog:

“Joe Biden frequently says that he ‘seeks not to divide, but unify’ Americans. But his announcement that he would like California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services undercuts that sentiment.”

What conservative think tank dreamed up these talking points? Both pieces go on to parrot each other, word for word—and these are only two of many other op-ed pieces I could cite. Okay, so maybe all of these conservatives are thinking along similar lines: it happens to Democrats, too.

But I would argue it’s disingenuous to claim that criticisms of conservative Christianity are in themselves “partisan” or “unreasonable” (to use one of Nagavonski’s descriptions of Becerra). And for this reason: it is the nature of certain strains of Christianity to insinuate into the body politic, forcing themselves into legislatures so that Christian values inform our laws. And the more conservative these strains of Christianity are, the more eager they are to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which explicitly forges a separation between religion and government:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

This clause, eminently reasonable in itself, has worked well for over two centuries in preventing any one religion from having undue influence over any others, or over non-believers. The Founders well understood the danger of having an official State religion, presided over by an authoritarian leader, and they protected the nation they conceived from falling into that error. But Christian conservatives have been active from Day One of America’s founding to tilt the First Amendment their way, neutralizing it and increasing their power and influence. Since the heyday of Ronald Reagan, these Christian conservatives have gradually increased their power in government and correspondingly eroded the natural freedoms the Founders bequeathed us.

Becerra is not some aberrant Christian-basher. He represents the best qualities of secular, Constitution-respecting Americans. In this, he is representative of the broad swath of Democrats, a party whose belief in the separation of church and state was eloquently expressed by John F. Kennedy more than sixty years ago:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

How far America has strayed since JFK uttered those noble words! Today we have so-called “Protestant ministers” not only telling their parishoners whom to vote for, but actually helping Republican politicians draft policies. We have a system in which a Republican-dominated Supreme Court allows public funds to flow to private religious schools. We have (or had, until Biden took over) a presidency that often took orders from far-right religious conservatives such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. We had, in other words, so far deviated from this country’s traditions that the Founders would be turning in their graves if they could witness it.

This is the notion that Xavier Becerra, a very decent man, consistently tries to convey. But this is the message Christian conservatives, like Cotton, hate to hear, because fundamentally they don’t believe in the separation of church and state, which means that, fundamentally, they don’t believe in the U.S. Constitution. They yearn for a Christian despotism in America, a Jesus-centered version of what the Taliban has done in Afghanistan, or the radical Shiite ayatollahs have imposed upon Iran. Becerra is unalterably opposed to this.

Christian conservatives have learned nothing from Trump’s defeat, or from their losses in Georgia. Like fanatics everywhere, they have planted their flag in the fertile soils of our democracy and will take down, or try to take down, anyone of prominence who stands in their way. This includes Xavier Becerra. Trump may be gone (for good, let’s hope), but Trumpism, and the rightwing Christian quackery that fuels it, remain for us to defeat.


Krushchev denounced Stalin. McConnell denounced Trump. Will we see a period of de-Trumpization?

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One of the most famous moments in the modern history of the former Soviet Union occurred in 1956, when then-Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev bitterly denounced Joseph Stalin’s excesses, especially his mass purges, and for fostering a “cult of personality.” This “cult,”explains the Stanford University political scientist Jan Plamper, consisted of “the systematic elevation of one person”—Stalin—such that “He, and only he, embodied the endpoint of the utopian timeline.”

During Krushchev’s secret speech to the Politburo, the other delegates “heard him in almost complete silence, broken only by astonished murmurs. The delegates did not dare even to look at each other as the party secretary piled one horrifying accusation on another for four solid hours. At the end there was no applause and the audience left in a state of shock.” History records that Stalin’s distant successor, Vladimir Putin, is in the process of “rehabilitating” Stalin, as Russia slides further into autocracy.

We can see the recent exit of Donald Trump from the American political stage as uncannily similar to Stalin’s exit from it when he died, in 1953. Just as the Soviet Union, and then Russia, had to cope with the fallout from Stalin’s murderous thirty-year rule and from Krushchev’s denunciation, so too are U.S. Republicans struggling to understand Trump’s continuing impact. As we see that party divided between (let’s say) the more moderate, anti-Trump Romney/McConnell faction and the radical pro-Trump Taylor Green/Lindsay Graham faction, we can learn by looking at how the Soviet Union coped in the years following de-Stalinization. In general, that period can be said to consist of two eras: (1), almost total ignorance of Stalin’s crimes by the Russian people themselves, and (2) a gradual realization of the destruction he caused, causing a reassessment of what most people had formerly believed. As Andrei Gromyko, the former Foreign Minister and President of the Soviet Union, remarks in his book, Memoirs, such a reassessment “must be objective, impartial and, given the crimes involved, merciless.”

It’s not easy for people who belonged to “cults” to objectively and impartially scrutinize the cult leaders, since this requires self-scrutiny, which is hard for all of us. In Stalin’s case, as the example of Putin shows, the re-interpretation of Stalin and Stalinism is a never-ending evolution, now utterly rebuking the dictator, now conceding that, maybe, he did more good than harm. Here in America, historians and the general public constantly refocus the lens through which they see former Presidents. Harry Truman, reviled when he left office in 1953, has since been “rehabilitated” as a near-great leader. So what of Trump?

Following the catastrophe of Jan. 6, Trump has been deservedly viewed as a dangerous menace, unfit to hold future office, and possibly (probably?) deserving of jail time. McConnell’s tirade against him, which he delivered on the Senate Floor on Feb. 12, 2021, is analogous to Krushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, 65 years previously. Analogous, too, was the reaction of the Republicans who heard him: they listened ”in almost complete silence,” and at the end of McConnell’s broadside,  “there was no applause and the audience [Republicans] left in a state of shock.”

Both Krushchev and McConnell were leaders in their countries (Krushchev No. 1, McConnell the leader of Republicans in the Senate). Both men were praised for a certain courage in speaking truth to power. Both men were “merciless” in their analyses. “Former President Trump’s actions that preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell said, in words that pleased the tens of millions of Americans who had already reached that conclusion.

But will the U.S. now see a period of “de-Trumpization,” as the Soviet Union witnessed de-Stalinization”? It seems far less likely. In Russia, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when de-Stalinization was at its height as more or less official Politburo policy, it was easy to compel the mass of the populace to think in a certain way. Russia, after all, was a dictatorship, a one-party authoritarian state with state-run media. The U.S. is far different. We are not yet an authoritarian state (although Trump did his best to turn us into one). We do not have state-run media (although during Trump’s four-year reign, Fox News came close). And Americans, as a people, are far more used to independent thinking that were Russians, who for a millennium had lived in a closed society, only barely removed from feudalism. It is much harder to convince a majority of Americans about anything, especially those who subscribe to cult-like thinking.

Again, look at Plamper’s characterization of “cults of personality:” “the systematic elevation of one person” such that “He, and only he, embodied the endpoint of the utopian timeline.” In the cult wing of the Republican Party, we still see people elevating Trump as the one individual who will achieve their utopian timeline. Granted that that is nowhere near an absolute majority of the American people: Perhaps 40% of Americans are Republican, and perhaps 60% of those can be described as Trump cultists—delusionaries who believe the election was rigged. Still, that’s a lot of people. Like the deadenders who refused to go along with Krushchev in denouncing Stalin, they will never be persuaded their former leader was and is a crook, a menace, a sociopathic danger. The difference is that, in Russia, for decades the pro-Stalinists had to keep in the shadows; speaking out would have exposed them to risk and ridicule. This is not the case with the pro-Trumpers. Far from feeling inhibited, they’ve been emboldened—by Jan. 6, by the Impeachment acquittal, by the behavior of top Republicans like McCarthy, Hawley and Graham to kiss the ring of the disgraced ex-president in exile at Mar-a-Lago. What do we do with those people?

In my view, nothing. Let them stew. Let them howl. Let them hurl their lies on social media (and continue to be banned). Let them wear their little MAGA hats and join their militias (which are being systematically infiltrated and dismantled by a reinvigorated FBI). Let them live in their caves, like the Japanese soldiers on their Pacific atolls after World War II—fantasts who refused to believe they had lost the struggle, who believed their Emperor would lead them once again to victory. Those old Japanese soldiers lost their minds, went quietly crazy in their jungles, and eventually died. The same will happen to the pro-Trump Republicans. We needn’t bother with them. We needn’t reach out to them—they’re beyond reasoning with anyway. The truth is, they simply don’t matter.


In Oakland, things are even worse than you thought

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The hottest story in the Bay Area right now is that of the Oakland Chinatown liquor store owner who saw a woman being mugged on the street, grabbed his gun (for which he had a permit), rushed outside, and tried to protect her.

The store owner, whose name isn’t being released, fired four shots into the air, as the elderly Chinese woman who was being mugged fell to the sidewalk. Her assailants fled, presumably frightened by the gunshots.

You might think this store owner is a hero. I certainly do. But according to the Oakland Police Department (OPD), he’s a criminal. They have arrested him, on a count of felony assault with a gun, and last I heard, he’s in jail. The muggers, of course, are nowhere to be found, and are presumably free to re-mug other innocent victims.

Oakland Chinatown is appalled, as well they should be. The tightly-knit little community has been under assault from outside thugs who know that the cops don’t care if they rob a store or mug an old person. Indeed, everybody in Oakland understands that Mayor Libby Schaaf has instructed the police chief to stand down on street crime. OPD barely responds anymore to calls from citizens. You almost never see a cop in Oakland. Morale among the force is said to be at an all-time low. I hear reliably that scores of Oakland cops are looking to get out, to work someplace less hostile to them. Even as the crime rate soars, a good part of the citizenry hates cops and is demanding that the already pillaged OPD budget be cut another 50%.

That idea is the brainchild of far-left City Council members. They have formed a so-called “Reimagining Public Safety Task Force” whose other recommendations are remarkably dangerous and stupid. Among these are:

  • Eliminating the use of OPD’s helicopter because it “bothers” certain people
  • Eliminating all military titles (Sergeant, Lieutenant) and replacing with “civilian” titles
  • Eliminating standard blue uniforms in favor of “plain clothing” in order to “increase racial equity”
  • Allowing community-based activists to vet police academy participants
  • Hire “those struggling with alcohol and drug issues” and “people with developmental disorders” in a “new department” within OPD to respond to 911 calls
  • Compel all officers to “undergo community sensitivity training”
  • Budget millions of dollars for a “youth-led decision making” process within OPD so that youth can “give input” to the police in a way that “ensures equitable outcomes”
  • Hire homeless people “to guide City Council’s response to the housing crisis”

Well, there’s a total of 144 recommendations, so I clearly don’t have the space to list them all. None of the recommendations, let it be noted, calls for increasing OPD’s understaffed officer count, or for actually arresting criminals. Suffice it to say that this “reimagining” is the stuff of fantasy, ideology and recklessness. When Oakland is paying “youth” and “homeless people” to run the police department, we’re in deep trouble.

Another rumor making the rounds is that the City of Oakland is paying homeless people $200 whenever their tent burns down, and is giving them a $100 gift card at Whole Foods. I can’t vouch for this story’s veracity. But knowing Oakland government, it sounds plausible: the city is paying homeless people to be arsonists.

Oaklanders like to think of themselves as a welcoming people. The city is one of the most diverse in the world, in terms of its racial, ethnic and cultural background, and that’s one of the things we residents celebrate. The downside of this welcoming attitude, though, is that the far left has twisted it into a ridiculous satire of political correctness. A notorious example of this occurred some years ago, when Schaaf announced that Oakland welcomed “our unhoused brothers and sisters” after Berkeley, San Jose and San Francisco got tough on encampments. When that message went out, our unhoused brethren flocked to Oakland. The onslaught got worse when the word went out in the homeless community that Oakland would also provide people with free housing, food and medical services. The result was predictable: the city is overwhelmed with encampments. Block-long piles of rubbish are strewn everywhere. Human feces stains the sidewalks and park benches. Deranged people roam the streets day and night, screaming at passersby, and there’s no one to call: the cops will not interfere because they don’t want to get caught in an “incident” that sees ambulance-chasing “civil rights lawyers” suing them for “brutality.”

Is there a relationship between the thuggery Chinatown has been seeing and Oakland’s welcoming attitude to homeless people? Absolutely. The twin phenomena both are byproducts of the prevailing “social justice” philosophy pervading Oakland political circles. Cops were just forbidden by the new Chief from touching suspects, even violent ones who are resisting arrest. (How’s that going to work out?) I hear through friends in close contact with OPD that officers are quitting in droves, transferring to other cities where cops aren’t loathed and prevented from doing their jobs. If you go into stores like CVS or Target, you see criminals loading bags with shoplifted stuff. They don’t even try to hide what they’re doing, they just browse the shelves like everyone else, take what they want, and walk out unmolested. The staff sees it all, but they’ve been instructed to do nothing—certainly not to call the police, who wouldn’t come even if they were summoned. When I talk to friends on the street who are super-lefties and I ask what they think of this widespread theft (or “re-appropriation,” in the language of the left), they say they have no problem with it. “The big chain stores are insured,” they say. “And besides, when people are poor, that’s what they do.”

This is what I call the entitlement of criminality. The left complained all the time about Trump being a pampered, entitled white man, but they can’t see the beam in their own eye. They’re blind to the entitlement on the left—“whatever we do and say in the name of disenfranchised people of color is correct.” If you object in any way, you’re a racist.

Living in Oakland, one has the feeling of general breakdown. It’s a terrible, sad thing to see, and those of us who have to live here have no option but to oppose it, as futile as that may often seem.


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