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Extremism in the defense of BLM is no virtue

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There is something epically stupid about the extremes of the BLM movement in America.

I italicize the word extremes with deliberateness, to make a point. Let me be clear: The movement itself is blessed and welcome. I hope, as I’m sure you do, it marks a pivot point in American history, when we finally overcome the horrid legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Yet the movement has unnecessary extremes that compromise its integrity and thus need to be called out. As an example, here’s a poster that’s popular in Oakland; you see it on lampposts and walls:

NO SUCH THING AS GOOD COPS

NO SUCH THING AS BAD RIOTERS

This is what I mean by “extremes.” Let’s break it down.

No such thing as good cops? How about the Oakland Police Department officers who volunteer for the Police Activities League, which runs track & field, basketball and many other recreational programs for young people? How about the cops who were called in response to a three-year old boy who was choking and turning blue? One cop performed CPR while the other cleared his airway. The kid thankfully recovered.

How about the cops who crawled into the smoking ruins of the 980 freeway after it collapsed in the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and rescued drivers trapped in cars, at great peril to their own lives as the remains of the freeway threatened to collapse? How about the cops who put their lives in imminent danger to rescue people stuck in the Camp Fire? How about the cops who donated their own money to buy equipment for a LatinX gardener whose truck was stolen with thousands of dollars of his tools? How about the Oakland cops who provide “Elf” stocking stuffers for poor kids every Christmas? I could obviously cite many, many more instances of police performing acts of kindness, compassion and, yes, heroism. These are good cops.

No such thing as bad rioters? How about the ones who looted and trashed the local CVS, 7-Eleven, Target, Walgreens, and many other stores in Oakland—stores where poor people work and shop? How about the rioters who smash bus stop windows, so the (mainly low-income and often elderly) folks who have to sit there waiting for the bus have no protection from the wind and rain? How about the rioters who wreck public park benches just for the hell of it? What does that prove? Whose civil rights are protected by wrecking a park bench? How about the rioters who assassinated a Black private security officer last month at the Oakland Federal Building? Again, I could obviously cite many, many more instances. These are bad rioters.

I do not believe that the vast majority of legitimate protesters are members of this violent minority of looters and destroyers. At the same time, they have allowed their beautiful movement to become confused in the public’s mind with looting and destruction. How? By failing to make it clear that violent people in their midst will not be tolerated. By failing to speak up, clearly, consistently and loudly, against the violent people. By not challenging such stupidities as

NO SUCH THING AS GOOD COPS

NO SUCH THING AS BAD RIOTERS

And, yes, by not putting grafitti up that says “Many cops are great.”

It would be very sad and historically tragic if we allow this post-George Floyd moment to be wasted. It would be a catastrophe beyond calculation if trump (I never capitalize his name) were to be re-elected. If these things happen—trump in for a second term, the BLM movement thwarted–the main sufferers will be Black Americans themselves. And yet, the extremes that are hijacking the movement carry the threat of nullifying it. donald trump knows this. He is using those extremes to frighten just enough voters to elect him to a second term, as he did in 2016. Now, I have spoken with enough protesters here in Oakland to understand a part of their rationale. They know they’re potentially undermining the public’s support of BLM. But their reasoning is, “Bring the whole rotten thing down. Burn it to the ground, then start over.” That, I might remind you, is from the Steve Bannon anarchist playbook. Bannon said, “That’s my goal…I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

And Bannon’s #1 fan, donald j. trump, said almost the identical thing: “When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell, and everything is a disaster, then you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be, when we were great.”

Apparently, the interests of the fascists—Bannon and trump—coincide perfectly with the interests of the BLM extremists. Which I find very interesting. Both sides want to provoke a violent clash in this country, one they think they will win. Neither side wants a peaceful, reasonable solution. Both sides are profoundly wrong. We, the People, have to show them both that we don’t want extremism, because if that’s our only choice, in the end, nobody wins, and everybody loses.


Oakland is the new epicenter of COVID-19 in the Bay Area

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The big news in Alameda County and Oakland, the county seat where I live, is that coronavirus is pretty much out of control. Infections are rapidly rising, hospitalizations are up, and so are deaths.

The center of the superspreading seems to be Lake Merritt and the adjacent Lakeside Park, which have aptly been called Oakland’s Crown Jewel. Unfortunately, the park continues to draw thousands of people, especially on weekends, who are coronavirus scoffers. They refuse to wear masks or to socially distance; with our beautiful weather, and with so many places of employment shut down, they gather early each day, their numbers swelling, until by afternoon the entire 122-acre park is basically one huge party.

The city and county have already issued requirements for masks and social distancing. The city has outlawed weekend parking around the park’s perimeter, and has instructed food trucks and kiosks that they can no longer do business there. But nobody’s listening. On a walk yesterday, the food trucks were gone, but there were literally hundreds and hundreds of kiosks, selling everything from candy and barbecue to clothing and jewelry. Cars were parked bumper to bumper even though every streetlamp bore an official city of Oakland notice prohibiting parking. Thousands of people were out and about, enjoying the 78-degree sunny weather. Some brought their dumbbells with them and were working out; many had boom boxes blaring loud music. In Snow Park, a smaller little city park across Lakeside Drive from Lakeside Park, some sort of organized activity was in progress: perhaps 500 young people jammed together, and barely a mask to be seen.

This situation naturally has caught the public’s attention. Many people, including me, are asking why the city is issuing regulations if it has no intention of enforcing them. Debate has erupted on social media, especially nextdoor.com. The two sides, if I can summarize their claims, are, one, the city should absolutely ban these gatherings and, if necessary, shut down the entire park. The other side is saying, basically, fuck off. In the words of one person who was replying to me specifically, “Mind your own business.” I don’t reply to such silliness, but someone else did, a woman I don’t know. “This is my business,” she informed him, adding that she’s a person of color and that the “fan effect” of epidemiology means that no one is safe, even if they make a point of staying away from the park.

How sad, how tedious it is that we’re having this conversation. I look around at all the people not wearing masks—young, old, Black, White, LatinX, Asian—and here’s what I see: smug, arrogant people. They may believe themselves to be “liberal” but in fact they’re playing the Trump game. (The person who told me to “mind your own business” even said that claims that Lakeside parties are spreading COVID-19 are “fake news.”) It’s pathetic that the President of the United States of America refused to take coronavirus seriously from Day One, and gave cover to the ignoramuses who don’t care if they’re party to the spread of sickness and death. One wants to approach these unmasked people and ask them what the hell is wrong with them, but one can’t, of course: these people are angry and rebellious anyway, and to challenge them is to risk a physical confrontation. So those of us who venture to the Lake must do so cautiously. And, of course, it’s not just the Lake that is the problem. These same morons who are contemptuous of public health at the Lake must be equally contemptuous in their own neighborhoods and homes.

This virus is spreading uncontrollably in my city and thousands and thousands of people just don’t give a damn. But pressure is mounting on our incompetent, politically ambitious mayor to do something about it. In my judgment the police are going to have to start citing people in large numbers. They have to ticket the illegally parked cars. They have to fine the kiosk vendors. And they definitely have to give citations to unmasked people.

I fully understand that this may not the best use of the police and that, in a city like Oakland, where so many people hate the cops, it could lead to flash points. But who else can stop the virus spreaders from their irresponsible behavior? The city has announced they’ve hired “ambassadors” to patrol the Lake. I go there every day (masked and keeping social distance) and have yet to see one. There can be nobody in the city of Oakland, or anywhere else in America for that matter, who doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. A boob who’s partying by the Lake is not going to suddenly “see the light” because some minimum-wage “ambassador” in an official shirt tells him to please wear a mask.

I fear for my city.


Oakland is waiting…

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“WE ARE UNGOVERNABLE” screams a chalk graffiti on a sidewalk not far from the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building at 1301 Clay Street, in downtown Oakland. The building, one of the city’s largest, was constructed in 1993, in a style that might be called Nineties Moderne. Meant to assert the power and authority of the U.S. government, it is neither ugly, as federal buildings from the 1950s are, nor particularly charming, although it does have a certain whimsicality. It consists of two 268-foot high towers, topped with pyramids and connected by a sky bridge. Its offices house the I.R.S., U.S. Coast Guard, and the Veterans Administration, and also include a federal courthouse and a post office. On May 29, a Black private security guard, hired to patrol the building during one of the protests following George Floyd’s murder, was assassinated; his white murderer has since been apprehended.

The “UNGOVERNABLE” graffiti is but one of thousands of others, expressing all sorts of leftist views, chalked or spraypainted onto sidewalks, shop windows, the plywood that covers shop windows, walls, doorways and bus stops throughout downtown Oakland, which has probably had more violent demonstrations than any other American city in recent years. Starting in the Autumn of 2011, when the Occupy movement was at its height, Oakland can reliably count on three or four tumultuous protests a year.

It’s impossible to know exactly who scribbled the “UNGOVERNABLE” graffiti on that sidewalk, but the person clearly wanted us to know his or her political leaning: the “A” in “UNGOVERNABLE” is capitalized within a circle, the international symbol of anarchism. The “A” stands, of course, for anarchy; the circle stands for “Order.” Together, they are said to mean “society seeks order in anarchy,” a phrase dating back to a French political tract from 1840, when “anarchism” was not against government in general, but against capitalistic banking interests. Our modern day, so-called “anarcho-punk” movement, which arose in the punk rock days of the 1970s, is against all government; it thrives in polyglot cities like Oakland. Actually, “thrive” might not be the most accurate description; since membership, as it were, is secretive and the people themselves prefer anonymity, we don’t know their numbers. But there seem to be—to my observation, anyway—a great many anarchists in Oakland. They tend to wear black, and be surly. And when they claim to be “UNGOVERNABLE,” we must take them at their word. They obey no authority, indeed they flout it. They respect no law, they have no bounds to which they will not go if given the opportunity, and this includes looting, vandalizing, robbing and torching small businesses whose employees usually are low-income people of color.

President Trump of late has famously sent federal troops to Portland, Oregon, and appears about to do so in Chicago, to protect (so he claims) federal property. On Tuesday, he threatened to do it in Oakland, which he called “a mess.” If the anarchists do strike in Oakland—and it’s inevitable that, sooner or later, they will—will they target the Dellums Federal Building, the only federal outpost (other than local post offices and a Social Security Administration unit) in my city of 430,000? If I were an anarchist, here’s how I’d be thinking: It’s the Wee Willie Keeler rule of “hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Willie Keeler was talking about baseball, but his rule applies if you’re trying to break the law and avoid getting busted. Trump has announced that he is prepared to “protect” the Dellums Federal Building with federal troops. Therefore, one strategy for the anarchists might be to avoid that particular hot spot and, if they’re truly intent on causing mayhem in Oakland, find another (non-federal) place to do it. There are plenty of options.

On the other hand, if you’re an anarchist seeking confrontation, then a run-in with federal troops might be just what you’re looking for. There’s already a public outcry against what Trump did in Portland. Our local anarchists might figure that a battle with Trump’s Troops could garner a great amount of sympathy for them, or at least further outrage against Trump. Then, too, if the anarchists are truly courageous (as opposed to sneaky little thugs who get away with their hit-and-run carnage under cover of darkness), they might consider themselves martyrs to stand up to the Gestapo, even if that means putting their limbs and lives on the line.

I walked over to the Dellums Federal Building yesterday afternoon. All quiet. The ground-floor windows were plywooded up, as they have been for weeks. A few employees came and went; a handful sat on benches in the bright, sunny courtyard, eating lunch. There was no sign of security, except for a single private guard off to the side, who looked like he couldn’t have fended off a child. And yet, as I took pictures, I couldn’t help but feel that someone was taking pictures of me. Surely Homeland Security, or the Border Patrol, or the FBI, or whoever these mystery federal agents are, already is scrutinizing the Dellums Federal Building. Surely Trump’s Troops are hunkered down nearby, maybe at the old, abandoned Naval Base in Alameda, ready to spring into action at, literally, a second’s notice.

We shall see. I’d hate to see more violence here. My city is broken and bleeding; what with the pandemic and the economic collapse, we can’t take much more. I went on nextdoor.com to express my prayer—that’s the word I used—that there will be no more violence in Oakland, a city I love. The resulting comments were, I suppose, predictable: I was immediately accused of favoring “property over lives.” Sigh. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother.


Wall Street Journal reporters are starting to rebel

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It’s encouraging that the Wall Street Journal’s own writers are demanding that the Murdoch family make “a clearer differentiation” between the newspaper’s news and opinion divisions, since the Journal’s embarrassing support of Trump has cast a shadow over the professional integrity of the reporters who work there.

It’s very sad; the Wall Street Journal has, or had, a well-deserved reputation for outstanding journalism. But, when the Murdochs made the decision to support Trump unconditionally, they flushed that reputation down the toilet. The extreme rightwing narrative peddled by the worst of the Journal’s op-ed columnists, such as Daniel Henninger and Kimberly Strassel, now have resulted in internal blowback unprecedented in the paper’s 131-year history.

More than 280 employees of the Journal sent a letter to management stating something I’ve been saying for years: the editorial page’s “lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources.” You can say that again. What is a newspaper, after all, if it has lost its readers’ trust? It becomes nothing but a press release for the politician it supports. Why would anyone be interested in paying for a press release for Trump? We can get that for free on Twitter.

There traditionally has been a sharp dividing line between editorial page coverage, or “op-eds,” and news coverage. The former represents the opinion of the writer. The latter is, or should be, based on an objective reporting of facts. Opinionating has no place in news coverage, while op-ed pieces should at least try to stay faithful to facts. Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal has wandered far afield on both fronts: their news coverage increasingly looks like puff pieces for Trump and hit pieces on Democrats, while the op-ed columns have become completely unhinged from factual reality.

The most egregious example of this—and, in fact, the last straw for the 280 Journal employees—was a Mike Pence opinion piece that denied the existence of a “second wave” of coronavirus in the U.S., and accused “the media” of contriving it. “Such panic is overblown,” the head of the administration’s coronavirus task force declared. It was such an obvious lie, so patently fake a claim, that no reputable newspaper ever should have allowed it to be printed; and yet the Wall Street Journal, which means the Murdoch family, did. It’s as if the paper allowed a flat-earther to declare that claims that the Earth is round are “fake news.”

We need news reporting now more than ever: real reporting, not made-up fantasies designed to protect a rogue, incompetent regime in power. This is why such newspapers as the New York Times and the Washington Post are so important to the survival of our democracy; that is also why Trump hates those two papers more than any others. It’s because they shine a light on his lies and the lies of his accomplices. Can you imagine if the Times and the Post should cease to exist? Who would tell us what’s really happening in the halls of power in Washington? Trump would have access to his big podium, and be able to spew all the fake news he wants, unchallenged by anyone else. It would be like Big Brother in 1984, when all the information available to the citizens was via the telescreens, which were run by the government. Information was tightly controlled and “massaged”; inconvenient facts were “vaporized”; history was rewritten, so that only the official version of reality was left.

That’s what Trump wants. It’s what Mike Pence and Bill Barr and the rest of the Republicans want. It’s what the Murdoch family wants: they’ve made a lot of money off Trump, and they have no intention of changing that. So they’ve sent word out to the entire staff of the Wall Street Journal: we will continue to allow Republican op-ed columnists to lie through their teeth on the editorial page, and we will continue to strongly “encourage” our reporters to ignore or minimize facts favorable to Democrats and puff up things favorable to Republicans. The Murdochs, however, didn’t reckon with one minor detail: the Wall Street Journal’s own reporters, who have had it up to here.


Trump’s troops

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Trump is claiming there’s a “silent majority” that will come to his rescue and get him re-elected in November. This mystery voting block, he asserts, is ashamed to admit publicly that they intend to vote for him. And given the extraordinarily horrendous job he’s done presiding over the presidency, if I were a Trump supporter I’d be ashamed to admit it, too. But could he be right? Are there enough secret pro-Trumpers out there to give him a second term?

Whenever I ponder that question, I have to remind myself of things I agree with Trump about. Take this recent business of him sending unidentified federal troops into Portland, where they round up protestors in unmarked cars and take them—where? Trump claims he’s doing it to protect federal property. That’s a ruse, of course. He’s doing it to appeal to the law-and-order part of his base. Democrats are pretty upset by this, and I am, too; people are calling Trump’s troops “the Gestapo,” and with good reason. But I have to admit, whenever there’s a riot in Oakland—and it happens here more than most other places—I get really pissed off at the protestors for trashing my city. And I complain to our mayor that she’s not doing enough to protect businesses and infrastructure that routinely get vandalized.

That is, I suppose, the law-and-order guy inside me. There have been times when I’ve gotten so mad at the protestors that, in my fantasies, I wanted troops—any troops—to come in, bust some heads, arrest the more violent of the protestors, and keep my city intact. I want, yes, vengeance. And it never came, which made seeing the plywooded storefronts, some never to re-open, all the more frustrating.

Well, now, Trump is the manifestation of my fantasy. He is sending troops in to keep downtown Portland from going up in smoke; he is arresting people. Now that I’m getting what I wanted (albeit in a different city), how does it make me feel?

Well, for one thing, it forces me to re-examine my emotional response to the riots, and to re-appraise my fantasy solution to them. That’s the funny thing about reality: it’s easy enough to live in a fantasy world of revenge, but when the fantasy turns real, you have to go to a deeper level in your analysis. So I’m confronted with a basic dichotomy: I do not like the violent protesters. (I need to add that I love and support the peaceful protestors, who are by far the majority.) I do want the violent ones to be stopped, and to be made to pay a price for their mindless violence. That’s what Trump’s troops are doing in Portland.

But I do not want federal troops deployed anywhere in America without the express invitation of local leaders, such as mayors and governors. And Trump’s troops have not been invited by them to Portland; on the contrary, Portland’s mayor and Oregon’s governor both have insisted that Trump’s troops leave immediately. So I have to choose sides. And the side I’m choosing is for Trump’s troops to get the hell out of Portland.

Sometimes you have to choose between two undesirable things. That’s just how life is. Both alternatives suck, but one sucks worse than the other. In this case, we cannot have a situation where mystery troops, uninvited by local law enforcement or political leaders, are sent unannounced by the President of the United States into an American city, where they round people up without warrants. I know too much of history, and particularly of how the Nazis rose to power and corrupted that power once they seized it, for me to accept it in my country. It’s simply too dangerous: a slippery slope. And given Trump’s obvious attraction toward authoritarianism, and his twice-asserted vow that he will ignore the results of elections, we just can’t let this Portland situation be repeated anywhere in the U.S.

I still want the violent protestors stopped. They accomplish precisely nothing, except to destroy the communities they claim to want to help. I think the majority of them are stupid, ignorant, psychologically damaged individuals who need therapy and in some cases jail time. Anyone caught deliberately destroying property during an otherwise peaceful demonstration should be hit with the hardest hammer of the law.

But by local jurisdictions, not federal troops! I wish these mayors would react more stringently to the violent protestors. But unless I can walk a mile in their shoes and understand what they’re up against and dealing with, I realize my complaining is just so much blah blah. What I’m saying is, I’d rather live with a shuttered Target store than with a rogue, criminal president sending “his” troops into my streets to round people up and haul them away in black cars. We’ve seen that kind of thing before, and it never, ever ends well.


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