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To Joey

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You know her only as a black-and-white photograph in your mom’s album, an old lady from a bygone era. But Rose was my grandma, your great-great grandmother on your mother’s side, and she lives in my mind, as your own grandma will live in yours, until the end.

It is right for us elderly to remember our own elders, as life ebbs and the past assumes greater prominence than the dreary, stinking present. I think about people all the time—people now dead, in the formal roll call of the living, but whose presence is as alive in me as my own coursing blood. Grandma Rose was the first person of my babyhood who loved me, maybe the only one who truly loved me. My parents, who were not ready for me and were never sure they quite welcomed me into their lives, were unable to give love except in fragments interspersed with indifference at best, violence at its nadir. Grandma Rose had nothing but love to give, in the manner of grandparents everywhere. My earliest memory is of laying in my crib while Grandma stroked my bare back with her fingers and sang Russian lullabies. The sense of physical comfort and human warmth—of love—showed the baby what is possible, although so rare, in this life; and I have sought it ever since, mainly in vain. But it lives, nascently, immanently, in my memory.

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and the T.V. just showed firemen here in San Francisco holding a memory ceremony in their firehouse out in The Avenues. A woman read the names of dead FDNY firefighters, the ones who rushed into World Trade Center Two before it collapsed on top of them. The great-great grandchildren of those fallen heroes will know them only from photographs (digital, I suppose), just as you know your great-great grandmother Rose only from a photograph.

You weren’t even alive on Sept. 11, 2001. To you, I guess, Sept. 11 is as distant in History as D-Day. Sadly, you’re living through your own incarnation of national tragedy: the pandemic. You’re a freshman at Cal, your classes are only online, you’re eating your meals in your dorm room brought in boxes by sanitized staff, there are no T.V. rooms or organized sports, they take your temperature all the time, and Berkeley is as shut down as any American city. It must be shocking and depressing for you to be experiencing your first semester in college in such a stultified way; you didn’t even have a senior prom last June. And yet, as real as these events are for you, someday in the future, for generations now unborn, the pandemic will be just a date, or an era, like the Spanish Flu in 1919, or the Plague in the 14th century.

My grandma Rose was born in a shtetl somewhere in Ukraine in the 1880s; she is said to have been a midwife before making her way, with her husband Max, to America via Ellis Island, in 1913, with their baby daughter, Ruth. Their sons Leonard and Jackie were to arrive later; Jackie was your great-grandfather, whom you never knew. You knew his wife, my mother and your great-grandmother, Gertrude, but you might not have any memories of her, because you were only two years old when she died, in 2005. But I can tell you she loved you with the same ferocity with which Grandma Rose loved me.

If you sense that you live in a nation filled with sadness, alas, it is so. The sadness predated the pandemic; it predated Sept. 11, although that catastrophe made it worse. America, I think, has always had, buried beneath the ebullience, a sadness. The Founding Fathers had a deep sense of melancholy; Jefferson was given to depressions, Adams to utter despair. Even Washington, “the father of his country,” recorded his “distress, embarrassments and perplexities,” while Lincoln’s depressions sometimes paralyzed him. Was this America’s legacy of slavery? Something built into the human condition? And yet the Founders labored to overcome their limitations to build something good and lasting. So must we all.

I pray that these years of yours now, your mid- and late teens, will bring you fun, comfort, joy and achievement, despite the profound sadness all around you, and around all of us. I pray that the resilience of youth will protect you from despair. I can picture you now, playing frisbee on the lawn by the Campanile, with new friends. Maybe your mask slips a little; maybe social distance isn’t always rigorously maintained. It’s hard when you’re playing. Play on, young Joey. You will always remember your freshman year in college. Someday, you’ll tell your own grandchildren about it. And maybe they’ll listen.


20 good things that happened in 2020 (so far)

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Someone wrote on Facebook, “Nothing good has happened in 2020 so far.”

I have to disagree. Here, in no particular order, are some good things that happened:

  1. Herman Cain died of COVID.
  2. Jerry Falwell, Jr. was caught in a sex scandal.
  3. Trump was impeached.
  4. Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sex crimes.
  5. Pete Buttigieg became a national hero.
  6. Supreme Court ordered Trump to turn over his tax records.
  7. Supreme Court said civil rights laws protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination.
  8. Supreme Court said Trump could not revoke DACA.
  9. Joe Biden continues to lead Trump in the polls.
  10. The Ohio Republican House Speaker was arrested for racketeering and bribery.
  11. Kimberley Guilfoyle made herself a national joke.
  12. Stock market recovers after February-March crash.
  13. Same-sex marriage was legalized in more and more countries, from Montenegro to Costa Rica.
  14. The Lincoln Project began.
  15. Kellyanne Conway quit her job.
  16. As many as 250,000 Trump supporters were infected with COVID at the Sturgis motorcycle rally.
  17. Mail-in voting sweeps the country.
  18. Last Chance U, the Netflix reality documentary, focused on Laney College in Oakland.
  19. Twitter and Facebook started taking down fake Trump-Russian propaganda.
  20. Crooked Melania Trump was busted for using a private email account, the same crime her husband accused Hillary Clinton of.

Well, I’m sure there was lots more good news. Do you have your own news to add? By the way, we’ll have more good news on Nov. 3, when Joe Biden is elected President of the United States and we can begin to dismantle the Trump damage and hold him and his family to account!


AIDS

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Exactly forty years ago this month, history records, the first victim of the pandemic—which as yet had no name—died in Copenhagen.

Three years after the Copenhagen man died, in the summer of 1983, I met Jim. He was only 38, but looked twice as old. His spinal curvature made him look far shorter than his 6-foot frame, he’d lost most of his hair and what was left was white, and the skin on his face was pallid and spotted. Where once he’d weighed 165 pounds, he was now down to below 100. He moved with the slow, grunting effort of a senior citizen—when he moved at all. Most of the time, debilitated by fatigue, he just lay in bed.

I’d been referred to Jim by my manager at Shanti Project, a wonderful young woman named Randi. I’d volunteered to work at Shanti a few months earlier. They’d put me through all the training: how to listen to dying people, how not to judge but be only supportive, how to keep accurate records. Then I was ready for my first client. When Jim answered the door at his Castro District apartment, I tried not to show my shock. We gradually got to know each other, as I washed his dishes, cleaned his toilet, shopped for his food, laundered his clothes and bedding, swept and vacuumed the floor, and occasionally drove him around the city, just so he could get outside a little. We didn’t talk much. There wasn’t much to say. He was easy to be around, and I hoped I was easy for him, too.

Once, after a month or so, he asked if he could ask me a big favor.

“It’s been six months since I held someone in my arms,” he began. The words were hard for him to say, I could tell, not just because speaking was physically challenging, but because Jim was a proud man, and didn’t want to ask for something as elemental as human affection. “Can we just hold each other in bed?”

He didn’t have to reassure me it wasn’t sexual. I knew that. This was a moment I’d been dreading. Shanti, which had access to the best medical information due to their contacts with the San Francisco Health Department and the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, had reassured us that the disease could not be spread through casual contact. At least, they were pretty sure it couldn’t. But no one could guarantee it. This was in early 1983; the virus hadn’t even been identified yet.

What would you have done?

We lay there quietly, me in front, him in back, spooning. His shoulder blades were sharp as knives. Maybe twenty minutes went by. The absolute last thing I wanted to communicate to Jim, whom I’d grown quite fond of, was any fear on my part. So I monitored my body’s reactions closely. Still the beating heart. Don’t fidgit. That pain in the right shoulder—the one with the bad rotator cuff? Ignore it. Just…be.

I got the call from Randi a few months later. I was at work, on campus at San Francisco State University. Jim had died that morning. Randi went silent to let the news sink in. Then she said, “Do you think you want another client? You don’t have to. It’s okay if you don’t. This is hard on everyone.” I didn’t have to think about it at all. “Yes, I want another client.”

That’s the way it was in the early days of AIDS in San Francisco. Up against a disease nobody understood, a horrible disease that ate people up like carbolic acid, that led to appalling suffering and hideous death. Thinking back on it now, it all seems so long ago. AIDS barely kills anyone anymore in America; the new drugs work. AIDS is as manageable as, say, high blood pressure. Pop a pill or two, and forget about it.

But those of us who went through the nation’s last pandemic before COVID-19 will not forget. The Castro District, so ravaged thirty-five years ago, is once again healthy and thriving (or was, before the pandemic shut everything down). You’d never know it once looked like Auschwitz. Now there are young couples wheeling infants in designer baby carriages. It’s not just gay anymore but has re-become the family neighborhood it was 80 years ago, before it became the Gay Mecca. Gone is the storefront where the AIDS Quilt was produced. Gone is Harvey Milk’s camera shop. Gone is the Elephant Walk bar, where you could flirt with the cutest men in town. Still around, thankfully, is Cliff’s Variety, on the corner of 18th and Castro, where you can get everything from a Cuisinart to diaper pins.  Still around, too, is Shanti Project. L’chaim.


La Guilfoyle: an embarrassment

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Kimberly Guilfoyle is clearly nuts, as evidenced by her embarrassing Evita psychodrama at the Republican convention. But she had one thing right: California is becoming unliveable.

But it’s not due to the things Guilfoyle lied about. It’s not because of “discarded heroin needles in parks” or “blackouts in homes” and it’s not because of “riots in streets,” all of which she alleged and all of which are Republican propaganda. California, my state since 1978, does have problems, but not the fabrications Guilfoyle invented. So let me deconstruct The Guilfoyle’s smears.

I live in an inner city in California and I have never seen a “heroin needle in a park.” I’m sure that there are needles, here and elsewhere, but California cities have far less of a drug problem than other U.S. cities, the worst of which—get this—are in Republican states. Take a look at this map of the most opioids per person, as measured by U.S. congressional districts. Every single one of them is red: most of the Deep South, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and northeastern California—one of the most conservative areas in the country. They’re all “flooded” with opioids, of which heroin is one example.

So Kimberly Guilfoyle, STFU and stop lying!

“Blackouts in homes”? Yes, this happens during massive wildfires, because the state’s largest electric utilities, especially PG&E, conduct public safety power shutoffs whenever wildfires threaten to spiral out of control. But that’s a precautionary measure; it’s the only way to ensure that power lines don’t topple and and then spread sparks and fire to adjacent grasses and trees during extreme wind and heat events, the kind that have resulted in the destruction of tens of thousands of homes and hundreds of lives in the last five years alone. Perhaps Guilfoyle, whose current boyfriend is Donald Trump, Jr., is comforted by the fact that Mar-a-Lago is not threatened by wildfires. Maybe The Guilfoyle doesn’t understand that intentional power shutoffs, no matter how annoying, save lives. Or maybe she doesn’t give a damn about saving lives. Either way, Kimberly Guilfoyle, STFU and stop lying!

Guilfoyle is closer to the mark when she screams about “riots in the streets.” As anyone who reads my blog knows, I deplore the arsons, lootings and destruction as much as anyone. But what Guilfoyle won’t tell you is that Donald Trump deliberately fans the tensions that spark the riots. Yes, he believes that riots are good for him politically, so he instigates violence in order to be able to denounce it. So Kimberly Guilfoyle, STFU and stop lying!

Now, here’s the real reason California is getting unliveable, and it has nothing to do with politics. It’s climate change. Our climate is getting hotter. Anyone who lives here, Republican or Democrat, knows that. The last few years have been crazy. Winters are warmer; winter nights in particular are warmer. Our summer heat waves come earlier, are more intense, and last longer than they used to. The Los Angeles basin just recorded its highest-temperature ever, 121 degrees. Even here in cool Oakland, we’ve been over 100 degrees multiple times this year—and our hottest months lie ahead. Most of the recent spate of wildfires—which have now consumed a record 2 million acres—were caused by lightning from an errant monsoon, another example of how our climate is changing. The fires have nothing to do with the lie that Trump constantly repeats—that California isn’t doing enough “leaf raking” in the forests. Lightning strikes have nothing to do with forest management. Besides, the federal government—Trump’s responsibility—owns most of the wilderness and forests in California.

The fires are awful for those whom they directly impact, but their smoke impacts people hundreds of miles away from the flames. Here in the Bay Area, we’re had unhealthy air quality for 23 days in a row, a record, and on many of those days, we’ve been told we had the worst air quality in the world. Everything smells like a used ashtray. Cars are coated with white dust, the ash of burned organic matter drifting down from the skies. When the temperature is 108 degrees and the air is too filthy to safely breathe, even with a mask, you do think about going someplace else. But this is all about climate change, something the Republicans will never admit. La Guilfoyle liked it here well enough when she was the celebrated, socially-connected First Lady of San Francisco, a glamorous fashionista. Now, suddenly, she has decided she hates California—I guess because California hates her boyfriend’s Daddy. So Kimberly Guilfoyle, STFU and stop lying!

Well, look, it’s fun to parody Kimberly Guilfoyle. She’s such a freak, sort of an Ivanka on crack. Her fellow conservatives—white, racist, homophobic, xenophobic members of the Trump cult—love her, the way they love other freaks of the feminine persuasion like Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter and, yes, the notorious Ivanka. It’s funny the way Republicans have a Madonna-whore attitude towards women: they’re either devils if they’re Democrats, or virtuous angels if they’re Republican. Republican voters know they wouldn’t want their sons or brothers to get tangled up with the likes of a Guilfoyle, Ingraham or Coulter, because they’re really bad news. But since they’re Republicans, they can be forgiven, and the more vicious they are towards Democrats, the more forgiven they can be, and hence the more vicious they can behave. Think of those three women—Guilfoyle, Ingraham and Coulter—and then think of Michelle Obama. Which would you rather have in your family?


On Islamic wars, useful idiots and Republicans

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“I firmly believe that California is a lot redder than most people think,” said a woman in a MAGA hat at a Trump rally in the state capital, Sacramento. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, an MSNBC reporter said that after talking with dozens of locals, she was convinced that “most people here support Trump, and they’re glad he visited” their riot-torn city.

News junkies like me keep our fingers to the wind trying to discern pattern changes. And I have to say, the riots of the last several months seem to be having the effect of driving more and more people into the Trump camp.

Trump is doing a good job exploiting the riots. He’s become what George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were before him: a law-and-order Republican. Americans are rightfully concerned to see entire cities fall into the chaos of anarchy and looting. Regardless of their views on race relations—and most Americans, I would hope, want to see equity and fairness—they’re scared by what they see happening in Kenosha, Portland, Oakland, Louisville.

When I was out walking the other day, I passed two Black men who were sitting on their front porch having a conversation which I couldn’t help but overhear snatches of. “People are afraid of change,” one said to the other. I thought about that. What does being “afraid of change” mean? I can’t answer that without more information. What specific changes are people supposed to be afraid of? Speaking solely for myself, I’m not afraid of change, per se. What I am afraid of is having my city and my neighborhood plunge into a welter of criminality and dysfunction. I am afraid of homeless camps down the block from me, whose inhabitants roam the streets at night, overturning recycling and garbage bins to see what they can find, breaking into cars, jimmying the lock on my building’s front door and ransacking the mailboxes, stealing UPS and FedEX packages. All these things happen all the time; there’s nothing we can do about it; the police don’t care and won’t come even if you are able to get through to them. It doesn’t take a fan of dystopian movies like Mad Max to play this thing out into the future and see a city devolve to the point of collapse.

So, if there’s a group in America I hate more than any other, it’s the violent BLM protesters. They’re not only needlessly, pointlessly wrecking American cities, they’re doing their utmost to re-elect the felon Trump, a second term of which will plunge the nation and the entire world ever closer to catastrophe.

I’m reading an interesting book now, The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East, a 1,368-page history of the wars ranging across Islamic Africa, Israel and Palestine, the Arabian Peninsula, and north and east into Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. The book is a comprehensive account of how the European colonial powers originally stole those lands from the natives, and how the natives revolted, first as nationalists and, later, as Islamicists. The stories are replete with the savagery, butchery and treachery that typify these wars, civil wars and insurrections, with both sides convinced that God favors them. When you think God is on your side, you can do anything, commit any atrocity, trample on any freedom and crush any opponent, however gruesomely you want, because God is all-powerful and will forgive you.

That’s how I see Republicans. It’s not a coincidence that most of their flags, posters, bumper stickers and T-shirts feature the word “Christian” prominently. Their political platform is, essentially, the same as the old European colonizers who plundered the Middle East, Africa, East Asia and the American continent. “Gold, glory and the gospel,” it used to be said of their reasons for their long, dangerous expeditions across the open seas from their homelands of Britain, Spain, Holland, Portugal, France. They wanted gold for their King’s treasury, they craved the glory that came from conquering, and of course they were told it was their earthly duty to spread the word of God and Jesus Christ to pagans.

Their modern-day spawn are the Republicans, with one difference: they’re no longer in search of “gold,” at least, not more than any Democrat. In place of “gold” we might substitute Donald Trump and the Trump family, the psychological equivalent of gold’s wealth and security. But like their ancient forebears, they seek the “glory” of overturning the existing order (“the Deep State”), and of spreading their particular gospel, in the form of evangelical or Pentecostal Christianity. In both cases—the 16th-century plunderers and the 21st century Trumpers—they see themselves as an Army of God, trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, glory, glory halleleujah!

The author of The Great War for Civilization, the journalist Robert Fisk, reports on a conversation he had in 1992 with an Algerian Muslim prelate, Hassan Turabi, who told him of a chat he, Turabi, had had with one of the Islamic leaders of Algeria. “I asked him, What’s your programme like? What are you going to do after the elections?…And he just said, ‘No, no, we just want to win the elections.’”

No program. No plans. Just the acquisition and maintenance of power: that is the way of all authoritarian regimes. And that is the way of the Party of Trump. No plan or program concerning climate change, income inequality, healthcare. No vision for restoring the belief of the American people in a fair and effective government. No plan for immigration, beyond insane walls and detention chambers. No plan for restoring America’s credibility around the world. No plan for how Americans of all races, religions, ethnicities and sexual orientations can live together, in peace and harmony. Their only plan: to win the elections and push their far-right, radically evangelical agenda.

I began this post with my concern that America might be redder than anyone thinks. I end on the same note. The violence in the cities is doing exactly what Trump wants it to—and anyone who supports the violence is, at best, a useful idiot, and at worst, a collaborator.


Live on Election Night, from MSNBC

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(MSNBC reports live on the election results with Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid, Nicolle Wallace and Steve Kornacki at the Big Board)

11:42 p.m.

RM: We’re getting important results right now. Let’s turn it over to Steve Kornacki. Steve?

SK: Rachel, this may be the most stunning call we’ve ever made here at NBC. We’re now projecting that Joe Biden has won the state of Texas and its 38 electoral votes. With 68% of the votes now tabulated, Biden leads Trump by 53.3% to 46.2%. If this projection holds—and we believe it will—it’s the first time since 1976 that the Democratic Presidential candidate has carried the Lone Star State, and an indication of just how fed up voters are with Donald Trump.

RM: Wow. Nicolle, what are you thinking?

NW: I’m keeping my eyes on Maine. Steve, any results there?

SK: Funny you should ask, Nicolle. The Associated Press is calling Maine for the Democratic senatorial candidate, Sara Gideon, which would mean longtime Republican Senator Susan Collins is out after 23 years. NBC News can’t confirm this just yet. Our analysts are working it.

Joy Reid: Well, if Collins is out, it’s hardly surprising. She’s been struggling in Maine for years for what I’d call her slavish devotion to Trump.

RM: Hold on a minute. I’m told—I’m told [tries to listen to her headphone] – we’re getting – let’s go back to Steve at the Big Board.

SK: Rachel, I can now report than NBC News is calling Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin for Joe Biden. The results all look like landslides. Look at this: in Wisconsin, which Trump won in 2016 by less than one percent, Biden is slaughtering the president, with almost 58% of the vote now counted. That gives Biden ten more electoral votes. Let me switch over to Michigan—if I can get this thing to work—oh, okay, there we go. NBC News is calling Michigan’s 16 electoral votes for Joe Biden. What’s interesting here, Rachel, is the suburban vote, which went for Trump by 8 points in 2016. This time around, they’ve flipped almost completely: for instance, the suburbs of Lansing went to Biden by nearly 40,000 votes, out of 70,000 cast. And wait for this—the big enchilada, Pennsylvania. With 20 electoral votes, we’re now calling it a Biden victory, and it’s not even close. Look at this—the former Vice President ahead by nearly a million votes.

JR: What’s the latest total electoral vote, Steve?

SK: Right, let’s switch over. Here we go. Keep in mind, these are the states we’ve already called. It’s Biden 186, Trump 74. But look at this. So Biden needs 84 more electoral votes to put him over the top. Where are they likely to come from? Well, now, all eyes are turning to Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Nevada and, obviously, Florida. But we don’t have anything yet. Back to you guys.

NW: This could be a long night.

JR: Lucky we have our coffee machine [all laugh].

RM: If it is a Biden blowout, then we’re going to be talking about the demise of Trumpism starting tomorrow morning.

JR: And possibly the demise of the Republican Party.

NW: It’s true. They put all their chips on Trump, and it’s beginning to look like they bet on the wrong guy.

RM: Sorry to interrupt, Nicolle. Another call. Steve?

SK: Another stunner, Rachel. Who would have believed this just a few weeks ago? Mitch McConnell, the Darth Vader of the Senate, the Republican Majority Leader, has been defeated in his bid for re-election to the seat he’s held since 1984. NBC News is calling Kentucky for the Democrat, Amy McGrath. This is a real mindblower, guys. Hang on a minute—we’re getting calls in fast and furious now—I’m trying to keep up—what? Okay, we have another Senate call, this time from Colorado, where NBC News is projecting the Democrat, John Hickenlooper, has defeated incumbent Cory Gardner in a lopsided race, 54.5% to 44.3%. This is a huge Democratic pickup.

NW: Steve, how many seats do the Democrats need to regain control of the Senate?

SK: Well, if they can pick off four Republicans and hang onto their 45 seats, plus the two independents who usually vote with them, they’ll take control. We’ve already called Maine and Colorado for the Democrats, so they’d need two. But the Democrat in Alabama, is in trouble. He’s currently trailing his Republican opponent by about 2 points. So the outcome for control of the Senate is in doubt.

JR: If Jones loses, then Democrats need to take three more states. Which ones are likely?

SK: Well, Arizona, obviously, where the incumbent, McSally, is in a tight race with the former astronaut Mark Kelly. And then you have North Carolina, whose Republican incumbent, Thom Tillis, is currently trailing Cal Cunningham, although by a razor-thin margin. And finally there’s Steve Daines in Montana, in a neck-and-neck race with his very popular Democratic challenger, Gov. Steve Bullock. If Arizona, North Carolina and Montana flip, then we’re going to be talking about Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. But of course if Jones holds on in Alabama, then the Dems only need to take two of those states.

RM: Ladies, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for another espresso!

Nov. 4, 12:46 a.m.

RM: We’re still here. It now looks very much like control of the U.S. Senate will pass to the Democrats, who also have increased their majority in the House of Representatives from 232 to at least 248, for an absolute majority. But we’re still waiting for the presidential results.

NW: I can hardly believe Trump can pull this off. All the signs point to a Biden victory.

JR: Well, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, right? Oh, wait a minute—this is huge—a big, big announcement. Let’s throw it over to Steve at the Big Board.

SK: This is the one we’ve been waiting for. NBC News is now projecting that the winner of the 2020 Presidential race is the Democrat, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. With Florida’s 29 electoral votes, his total now sits at 292, 22 more than the 270 required to win. And we still don’t know the results from seven other states all of which Biden is leading in. So we’re now announcing that America has elected its 46th President, Joseph Biden. He’ll be the oldest person ever elected President.

JR: Wow.

RM: Ditto that.

NW: This is an historic moment, guys. Let’s just take a moment to let it sink in.

[BREAKING NEWS]

RM: I’m reading this off a note my producer just handed me. President Trump just tweeted that the election, quote, “has been illegitimized by massive voter fraud, with the help of Chinese hackers. Your president—me—is not going to allow this travesty to be imposed on the American people.” Guys, it looks like what we’ve been talking about and worrying about for months may be in the process of happening: Trump refusing to recognize the results of the election.

JR: Now what?

NW: I think we’re going to find out soon enough…


Trump has one thing right, but that doesn’t mean he should be re-elected

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As I take my daily walk through Oakland, my thoughts turn to Trump supporters, who don’t want their towns, cities and suburbs to turn into what Oakland has become. And I have to agree.

It’s sad and horrifying to see my adopted city of 34 years literally dying before my very eyes. All the accoutrements of civilization are disappearing. This has been going on for some years, of course, but between the Great Recession, the first round of riots and looting during the Occupy days of 2011-2012, the homelessness, the pandemic’s economic devastation, and now the second Intifada—for that’s what it is—of the Black Lives Matter riots, Oakland has turned into a stinking, fetid mess.

What do I see on these daily walks?

I see mile after mile of homeless encampments. I’m not talking about neat, tidy little tents. No: I’m talking about acres, blocks, miles of rotting garbage, trash, twisted shopping carts and piles of moldy clothing, through which human beings live. I see them picking their way through the rags and the junk, looking for something salvageable.

I see most of downtown, a good part of Chinatown, and even down to Jack London Square, turned into no-man’s land: block after block of storefronts, their windows boarded up, the plywood overnight sprouting “Kill All Cops” graffiti. Some of the stores are open, although it can be hard to tell, but many are not, and will never reopen, lost to these blighted neighborhoods. Lost is the shopping convenience of small markets, nail parlors, clothing stores, drug stores, mom and pop restaurants. Lost, too, are the jobs they provided for inner city poor people struggling to get by, most of them minorities. So the looters have shut down the economic basis of a good part of Oakland, and for what? In the name of civil rights? Does burning and looting a nail parlor save a single Black life?

Of course, shutting Oakland down economically is what the vandals and looters want. In their fever dreams, they suffer from multiple delusions. One is that they can actually stop progress. Sorry, looters: you can’t build a moat around Oakland in the Bay Area and expect all the other cities to grow and thrive while Oakland gets poorer. But the looters want Oakland to be poorer; they’re against what they call “gentrification,” so if they can compel Oakland to be poor by driving away businesses and frightening new residents from moving here, then the new condos will stop going up and the existing housing stock will become affordable—or so they hope.

I see the crazies wandering the streets. That may not be the politically-correct term, but you know what I mean. The ranters, the half naked, the bug-eyed, the comatose sprawled in gutters, puddles of liquid seeping from their clothes. As soon as I left home, within a block I saw a deranged older man with his penis hanging out of his filthy, stained trousers. People doing the oddest things: I sometimes do a double take trying to figure out what they’re up to. One guy had a small metal tube, like a piece of copper pipe, which he tapped exactly two times on almost everything he passed: fences, brick walls, signs, lampposts, plywooded windows, in some sort of fetishistic ritual. Why? What does he think he’s doing?

These are the things I see on my walks through Oakland; and the reason I think of Trump’s supporters is because they are right to be horrified and frightened by all this. If this is the future of their own neighborhoods, then I can hardly blame them for voting Republican.

Still, I will vote happily for Joe Biden, and I will vote Democratic up and down the ballot. Because even though I agree with Trump when he calls Oakland a disaster, and when he calls Mayor Libby Schaaf weak and shamelessly incompetent in dealing with Oakland’s multiple crises, I’m reminded that even a broken clock can be right twice a day. I’m cognizant of the fact that Trump and his white, working class supporters—for all their loathing of places like Oakland—have no solution whatsoever for dealing with all this. What are we supposed to do with Oakland? Is there a very large toilet that Republicans expect we can flush it down? Do they want to build moats and put barbed wire around Oakland so that our problems don’t invade their lovely communities? Or do they intend to build walls around their own gated communities to keep us out? Do they want to have two nations—an America going up in flames, like Oakland, and an America of happy, safe, economically-mobile white people? Apparently, that is what they want. That’s their solution: Two Americas, theirs, and mine.

That’s the Republican solution: segregation. If they have anything else, I’d like to know what it is. I listen to their speeches, read their op-ed pieces and the statements of their politicians, and I hear nothing remotely resembling a real solution. I’m too smart to buy into an approach that is bogus, pointless, dangerous and will simply exacerbate the situation. There has to be a way to deal with Oakland without utterly writing it off, without cursing the people, without mere hatred. I don’t know what the way is, but I think I sometimes catch glimpses of it. I see it in the work being done in the inner city, by church groups, professional sports teams like the Warriors and Oakland A’s, non-profits and well-meaning charities, who try to save at-risk kids. I see it in Democratic proposals for better schools, better pay for teachers, universal healthcare, supporting unions, fighting environmental injustice. I catch glimpses here and there—but that’s all they are: glimpses. I know what doesn’t work more than I know what does.

If I see the negativity of Republicans as something that doesn’t work, so too do I see the simplistic approach of Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police as irrelevant to the realities Oakland confronts. Oakland is not going to be saved by slogans, which reduce extraordinarily complex issues to the blandness of advertising slogans, as if rescuing Oakland were a matter of buying a new, improved deodorant. Police reform (whatever that is) is not going to reopen the shuttered shops, is not going to clean up the piles of garbage, is not going to produce more jobs, is not going to build affordable housing or rescue the crazies from their fates. I don’t know what will. But I know that I have to hope. Hope is what we have: Barack Obama said it, and it’s truer now than ever. And I know that the Republican way is thoroughly, disgracefully, shamefully hopeless.


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