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Repubs continue their war of People of Color


These Republican efforts to crush minority voting are so obvious that I had to ask myself how they dare to do it in the glare of daylight. Usually when rogues do dastardly things, they wait for cover of night—like cockroaches raiding the kitchen pantry.

But these Republicans seem to have no fear or shame. Instead, they boast of their crimes. Where do they get their effrontery?

From Trump, of course. They have learned from him (and he learned it from Goebbels) that the Big Lie works. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it,” the Nazi Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment remarked, “people will eventually come to believe it.” Hence the 30,573 lies Trump told during the course of his blighted presidency.

These Republicans knew that Trump lied almost every time he opened his mouth. At first, they were appalled—privately, of course. They’d heard his prevarications about Obama’s birthplace, and, later, about the size of his inaugural crowd and the fakeness of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so they knew he was a pathological liar. But they saw, also, that he got away with it—not with Democrats or the legitimate news media, but with Republicans, who loved Trump’s boastful chutzpah. Popularity is the mother’s milk of politicians, and so they decided to back up Trump’s lies. Later, they decided to lie themselves, and this is where the Republican Party is today: hoisted on the petard of its own unnatural tendencies. Like a serial killer who knows that time is running out, but who lusts for additional spoilage, these Republicans double down every day on lies. The depravity of the Arizona “recount,” with its bamboo-laced ballots, is the most recent example. It would be completely insane, were there not so many others.

How long can Republicans maintain these lies? Goebbels had the answer. “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.” Trump’s lies do have severe consequences for the American people, the most important of which are the undermining of our democracy and the resulting erosion of civil liberties. But there are economic consequences too: working class Americans can’t get ahead because Republican tax policy is heavily stacked against them, and because their wages are limited due to Republican favoritism of corporations. If Republican voters, especially the working class, understood how negatively Trumpism is impacting them, they might become Democrats, or at least Independents. Hence (Goebbels again), “It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

This is where Fox “News” and other conservative media outlets come in. Their role is not to disseminate news, and it is not to tell the truth. It is to repress facts that are “the enemy of the State”—the Republican state. It is to repress voting. People of color are not stupid, as Republicans insist they are. People of color know exactly what’s going on. They see how Republicans keep trying to marginalize them. They know they lost ground economically under Trump. They know that Trump tried to kill them by gleefully letting the pandemic spread unchecked through their communities. They understand that Republicans don’t want them to vote, and they know why: because people of color tend to vote Democratic. They heard Trump when he said, on his favorite T.V. program, Fox & Friends, that if every American voted who was eligible to, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” There it was, a dastardly thing said in broad daylight. Republicans said they liked Trump because he told it like it was and always spoke his mind, and it was true. He spoke the “truth” of segregation, of Jim Crow, of voter suppression laws, of white supremacy. He did it openly, and saw his popularity among Republicans soar higher and higher. No wonder Republican politicians sold their souls and jumped on to the Trump train.

Well, here we are, already thinking about the 2022 elections. McCarthy is widely said to be favored to become the next Speaker. Anything is possible, but I have to believe that the American people are finally realizing what a horrible disaster Trump was, and are grateful to be done with him. But I’ve been wrong before about Trump. In 2011, I predicted he was done. What did I know, in my blue bubble? What do I know now?

Why are the super-rich so opposed to taxes?


How much money does anyone need, anyhow? I used to work for a very wealthy family. They spent money like it was water. Their wealth was unfathomable, yet they still resented what few dollars they paid. During the 2016 Republican primary season they were inclined to support Ted Cruz—yes, that Ted Cruz, the most disreputable man in Washington now that Trump has left town. Cruz, they figured, would lower their taxes so that they could buy more mansions, planes, baubles.

Now we have President Biden, who is promising “to reward work, not just wealth,” by raising the tax on capital gains and on giant corporations.

Imagine that, rewarding work, not wealth!

Republicans, predictably, are bitterly opposed. Most Republican congressmen are not rich, but they hope to be, which is why they carry water for their billionaire corporate paymasters, who they assume will someday reward them when, having been tossed out of office in a Democratic wave, they can then land a cushy job in P.R. or on some do-nothing Board. Perhaps that is the vision of Rep. Kevin Brady, the Republican from Texas’s 8th Congressional District. “Another economic blunder by the Biden administration,” Brady thundered about the President’s tax plans. “It punishes investment in local businesses,” he added.

Brady knows something about “local businesses.” One of the nation’s largest oil companies, Anadarko Petroleum (acquired by Occidental Petroleum in 2019) is headquartered in Brady’s District, and—surprise!—Anadarko has been one of Brady’s top campaign contributors.

Well, it would be fun to spend a couple weeks tracing the nefarious connections between rightwing Republicans and the secret money they feed on. I’ll leave that to Jane Mayer. Meanwhile, all of this begs the question of why Republican voters—the little guys, the working stiffs—are so opposed to raising taxes on the rich.

I mean, it’s not like poor Republicans have any love of billionaires. I think we all resent the .01 percent, maybe not personally, but in terms of the way they consistently rake off the national wealth for themselves, and then buy Republican politicians to help them keep the scam going. I imagine some Appalachian dirt farmer in Kentucky, who can barely afford to repair his car or put food on the table for his family—the kind of person showcased in the book and movie, Hillbilly Elegy.

This man is dignified, unashamed of his calloused hands, proud of his roots, and damned if he’ll beg for help from anyone, especially “the gummint.” He’s a devout Christian (even if he doesn’t always live his life in a Christian way), and he thinks most city dwellers are more or less perverted, if they’re not actual Communists and terrorist sympathizers. He has little more than a grade school education, but he doesn’t trust elite college graduates anyway; what do they know of his life? His granddaddy may have voted Democrat back in the day, but he, himself, is a solid Republican, a Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell guy. And because they tell him that taxing billionaires will make him even poorer than he already is, he’s against taxing billionaires. Does our poor Kentucky dirt farmer ever sit down and think things through, like why raising Charles Koch’s taxes would hurt him? Koch is worth $63 billion-with-a-“b,” and his dark money may be the single most potent force in the American anti-tax movement. The answer is, it’s most unlikely our farming friend ever puts his mind through such mental contortions. He’s not inclined to critical thinking, and besides, he trusts good ole Mitch and good ole Rand, and that’s all there is to it. Doesn’t the Greatest Christian of modern times, Trump, say the same thing? “I hope they don’t raise your taxes, but if they do I told you so,” he warned his fans in his so-called “farewell address” on Jan. 20, just two weeks after fomenting insurrection. Of course, by “they” he meant Biden’s Democrats, and when he predicted “they” would raise “your” taxes he did not explain that Biden has no intent of raising taxes on “them,” the little people, but only on the superrich. However, this truth was concealed from Republican voters (who, watching Fox “News,” didn’t even know what Biden was proposing), and our farming friend in Kentucky was given more reason than ever to remain a Republican. “I’m a poor man,” he said to his friends at the local honky-tonk, where a few nights a week he can escape his crushing existence. “I can’t afford to pay no more taxes.” Fist bumps and clanging beer mugs around the bar! Toasts to “President Trump, who won the election.” Somebody says “Hang Pence” The band swings into Dixie. A man drapes himself in a Confederate flag and, brandishing a Glock 19, screams, “From my cold dead hands!” A woman, drunk and reeling, begins singing “God bless President Trump.” Our poor dirt farmer, among his people, is happy.

The dark side of police reform


So self-absorbed and out-of-touch is Oakland’s “Reimagining Public Safety” task force that they are able to publish blatant nonsense under the guise of fact and get away with it.

Well, no more.

They say the reason for “Reimagining” (which, let’s be honest, is merely the new politically correct word for “defunding”) is because “Many residents feel less safe in the presence of OPD.”

Now, this is a grammatically correct statement. It has a noun-subject (“Many residents”) and a verb (“feel”), so that it appears to represent reality. But does it? Who are these “many residents”? Has a census been taken?  No one asked me. I could say, with equal certitude, “Many residents feel safer in the presence of OPD.” I know I do, and so do most people I know. So just because a statement makes technical sense doesn’t make it true.

And who feels “less safe in the presence of OPD”? I’m sure that the rioters who throw rocks and bottles at cops feel “less safe,” as well they should: if you attack a police officer, you should feel unsafe. I suppose, also, that the defund-the-police people who commandeer City Council and Police Commission meetings don’t feel safe in the presence of cops (at least, they say they don’t), but you know and I know that, if they were mugged or their homes invaded, their first phone call wouldn’t be to John Burris but to 9-1-1.

But these downtown rioters are not normal Oaklanders. In many cases they’re white, privileged druggies who espouse vaguely radical extremist politics they think are fashionable and make them appear “progressive.” They also in many cases are anarchists who believe in no government at all. How else can you explain their fondness for smashing store windows, setting garbage cans on fire, wrecking bus stops and looting Targets and 7-Elevens? Does any of that help People of Color?

Here’s another whopper from the Reimagineers. “After 17 years under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, OPD still has 7 of 51 tasks that are in complete [sic].” Let’s get to the bottom of this famous “negotiated settlement.” In 2003, following allegations of police misconduct, OPD and the City of Oakland hired a so-called “Independent Monitor” to oversee “reforms.” That monitor was Robert Warshaw. In 2014, according to OaklandWiki, Warshaw was paid $502,000. A year ago, the Oakland-based civil rights attorney, Pamela Price, reported that since 2009, Oakland has “paid [Warshaw’s] two companies more than $8 million.”

It’s very difficult to obtain transparent information about Warshaw but two things are safe to say: He’s cleaning up financially as “Mr. Monitor” and he appears to have a lifetime sinecure; as long as he can allege that there remain “tasks” for OPD to complete, he’ll continue to make his money. So here, again, the Reimagineers resort to rhetorical trickery. They seem hell-bent on crushing OPD, and Warshaw is helping them do it. The Reimagining-Warshaw-Defund Complex fiddles while Oakland burns.

Here’s another spurious claim by the Reimagineers: “Significant investment is being made into less effective Punitive Enforcement versus more effective Community Empowerment & Crime Prevention.” Can someone tell me why locking up bad guys is “less effective”? Less effective than what–“Community Empowerment” and “Crime Prevention” programs? Nobody knows what those things are. They sound good…Who could be against “Crime Prevention”? I admit that my view of such programs is informed by reporting I did when I was a working journalist. I was investigating “violence prevention” programs in Oakland and stumbled upon a horrifying system of mutual back-scratching, secret financing and virtually non-existent accountability to see if the programs were actually preventing violence. The fact that, despite all of Oakland’s crime- and violence-prevention programs over the decades, crime and violence are at or near all-time highs is a terrible indictment of such programs. Yet we have a City Council that–having thrown up their hands because they don’t have the slightest idea how to actually combat crime–throws money at dubious social justice warriors who simply perpetuate the failed approaches of the past. I could make the same indictment of “Community Empowerment” programs. What “communities”? How do you “empower” a community? Fruitvale, Adams Point, Temescal—these are communities with lots of different people. The way to empower a community is for its people to live lives of decency and ethical consideration of others. There is no other way, especially not in Oakland, where grifters are always on the hunt for the main chance: free money from the city or its charitable partners to do things that sound and feel good, but in the end are monstrous wastes of time.

All this, by the way, is not to say that I don’t believe certain aspects of police reform are called for. Oakland’s MACRO program has some good points. And there’s room for improvement in the way we recruit and train cops, and how we deal with issues concerning the use of force and misconduct. But the Reimagineers take things way too far. They’ve been pretty successful up until now because no one has been organized or articulate enough to expose them and speak for the People, and because Oakland is a super-liberal city susceptible to the kind of rhetoric the Reimagineers indulge in. But I keep my finger to the wind, and I feel a change in the weather. In this battle (for that’s what it is) between moderates and radicals, we moderates are gaining the upper hand.

Why a gay Jew should be president


The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony. –Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’”, 1966

Sontag wrote these words a long time ago, when her New York City seemed the center of the universe, and other forces such as evangelicism and radical Islam were yet to make their appearance on the stage. Still, her formula retains a certain validity. The police reform movement stems as much from Jewish moral seriousness as it does from the concerns of the Black community (and the two historically have been intertwined). I could argue, too, that we actually live in an age of post-irony, in which the distinction between “earnest” and “ironic” sensibilities has become muddied (perhaps only temporarily), a trend that was further exacerbated by Donald Trump’s assault on truth.

“Jewish moral seriousness” is a nice and true phrase. The ancient Jews invented what we think of as “morality.” It stemmed from the need of the tribe to stay united in the face of tremendous adversity, which resulted in the moral demand that, for instance, all male children be circumscribed, and more importantly in the conception of a single God (monotheism), which has formed the basis of Western civilization. From Jewish moral seriousness issues the righteous demand that all men are created equal, and that the Law itself, if it has any value, must treat all equally, in order to further the cause of freedom. (This truth, by the way, also lies at the heart of the Democratic Party, which is why that party has been so closely identified with Jews.)

Jews are taught to take these things literally and seriously. Jews have been at the forefront of every modern struggle for freedom and liberty (themselves the bases of the Passover celebration). Even more than now, in the 1960s, when Sontag wrote, Jews were an intrinsic part of the Black civil rights movement, providing much of the intellectual armor for Dr. King, and providing also many of his foot soldiers. (Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered by the KKK along with their friend James Chaney in 1965, both were New York Jews.) Jews made up a significant percentage of those advocating for women’s rights and gay rights in the 1960s and 1970s, and even in today’s Black Lives Matter movement, more than 600 Jewish organizations, representing a majority of American Jews, signed a full-page ad in the New York Times supporting BLM; and they did so on the 57th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic march on Washington.

But what about “homosexual aestheticism and irony”? Sontag herself defined “camp” as “one way of seeing the world,” namely, “in terms of the degree of artifice.” For me, the epitome of artifice, of “homosexual aestheticism and irony” has been exemplified by Andy Warhol and his art, and the way he implanted that irony into the culture—or reflected it. When Warhol said, “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it,” he was highlighting this irony: there was “something” behind the “nothing,” but who could tell the difference? Warhol not only highlighted the artifice of modern art in all its grimy commercialism, but the artifices of America itself.

I have both my feet firmly planted in “Jewish moral seriousness” and “homosexual aestheticism and irony,” so if Susan Sontag is correct, then I am “the pioneering force of modern sensibility.” But to tell you the truth, I don’t feel like the Zeitgeist. I’ve always felt like the Outsider. This is, I suppose, for the dual reasons that (1), the world is such an amoral or immoral place that anyone driven by “moral seriousness” must feel like an alien. And (2), “homosexual irony” is not the easiest mindset with which to pass through this world. One is constantly caught in the inbetween-ness of things as they present themselves and the ambiguous semiotics that lay below the surface. Being “in the closet” is the perfect metaphor for this inbetween-ness. Homosexual irony suggests that nothing is as it appears; all is layers, artifice, make-believe.

Were homosexual irony all there was, it would lead to a huge moral catastrophe in the world. But Jewish moral seriousness rides to the rescue by imbuing the world with meaning. Trump in his own weird way caught the essence of homosexual irony: ambiguity can be helpful to a devious and greedy man. What he completely misses is moral seriousness. His daughter and son-in-law may profess to be Jewish, but their particular cult is rigid and ideological and thus immune to the real “moral seriousness” of Judaism. Which leads me to wonder: wouldn’t it be great to have a gay Jew as president?

COVID today, AIDS 40 years ago


I was scrolling through online movies last night, looking for something to watch, when I came across “The Normal Heart,” director Ryan Murphy’s 2014 film based on Larry Kramer’s 1985 Tony award-winning Broadway play. Murphy’s film, executive-produced by Brad Pitt, had an all-star cast (Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer) and itself won numerous awards.

I’d seen “The Normal Heart” before but, as with all fine art works, I always find new things to like about it. The film is a sensitive portrayal of the way the AIDS epidemic hit America, and in particular New York’s gay community, starting in 1981. While it’s told from Larry Kramer’s occasionally melodramatic point of view, it details the history of this historic epidemic in a way rivaled only by “And the Band Played On,” the 1993 film based on Randy Shilts’ 1987 book of the same name.

Although I lived through AIDS, I’ve also lived through the COVID-19 epidemic, and it’s hard not to make comparisons. AIDS was a direct threat to me, as a young gay man living then at Ground Zero in San Francisco. COVID has not been as much of a threat, although it was impossible to realize that in March, 2020, when it seemed anyone could get it. Now I know that I was not in one of the high-risk groups: nursing home residents, non-English-speaking LatinX, healthcare workers, prison inmates. But I didn’t know that then, and I took the precautions very seriously, wearing a mask all the time outdoors, staying at home for the better part of a year, washing my hands constantly, and social distancing on those occasions when I did dare to venture outside.

When the threat of AIDS really began to strike home for me, in 1983 as dozens of gay San Franciscans were dying every week, I thought I needed to do my part. That summer, I volunteered for The Shanti Project, which assisted AIDS sufferers. Although I was going to grad school fulltime, working fulltime, and had a very busy schedule which included trying to make my relationship with Eugene work, I felt compelled to do something for my community. My Shanti work consisted of helping bed-ridden clients with household chores such as washing dishes, doing laundry, scrubbing toilets, grocery shopping, dusting and vacuuming. Over the course of the next year, I had two clients I grew close to; both died. I have such vivid memories of Jim and Gary. Jim, my first client, said to me one day early in our relationship that it had been six months since he had held another human being in his arms, and did I mind if we just lay on his bed, embracing? He meant it in a non-sexual way. He was dying, his six-foot frame wasted away to less than 100 pounds, and he was so very sad. Shanti’s managers had told us they were convinced the virus, or whatever was causing AIDS, was not transmissible through ordinary bodily contact, but who knew? Yet I had to comply with Jim’s desire. We lay on his bed, him spooning me from behind, while I wrestled with fear, duty, compassion, love. As for Gary, he was on the board of directors of Shanti Project, and figured prominently in the book version of “And the Band Played On.”

Now, here we are, exactly 40 years after the Centers for Disease Control published the shattering article, “Pneumocystis Pneumonia-Los Angeles,” in their newsletter, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The article opened with one of the most famous sentences in medical history: “In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California.”

By contrast, the Weekly Report’s first mention of COVID-19 came on Feb. 7, 2020. It began with this true statement: “In December 2019, an outbreak of acute respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was detected in mainland China. Cases have been reported in 26 additional locations, including the United States.” Sadly, it also included this lie: “CDC, multiple other federal agencies, state and local health departments, and other partners are implementing aggressive measures to substantially slow U.S. transmission of 2019-nCoV…”.  It was a lie, because Donald Trump was the head of government and he had no intention of “implementing aggressive measures” to prevent Americans from dying because he didn’t care. As of today, 570,000 of us have died from COVID-19. Donald Trump is still playing golf.

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