How's that Working Out For You? Adventures in Democracy, was Teaching Industrial Relations in Vietnam

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

8 minutes and 46 seconds at McDonalds — July 26, 2020

8 minutes and 46 seconds at McDonalds

Demonstration at McDonalds last week, part of the nationwide Strike for Black Lives, that includes healthcare workers, fast food workers, “essential workers” of all sorts. McDonald’s has not provided adequate PPE for workers and many have gotten COVID-19.


Joe went to this demo and took photos;


People are kneeling for the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that it took for Derek Chauvin to kill George Floyd. This is now an essential part of a demonstration.

The McDonalds was actually closed:

Mc 3


Mc 6

MC 4

MC 5

Why Vermont is safe — July 21, 2020

Why Vermont is safe

As you know from previous posts on this blog, we have a house in a small bump-in-the-road village in Vermont.  Actually, there is not even a bump.  We tried to get a stop sign, so that logging trucks coming down the mountain would have to at least slow down as they go through the village, but the State Department of Transportation gave us a painted crosswalk instead, which soon was erased by traffic in the summer and snowplows in the winter.

The purpose of this blog entry is to explain to the many people from East Coast city environments who want to move to Vermont what “safe” actually means.

Safe because it’s poor, and thinly populated for the same reason

No doubt, Vermont has few COVID 19 cases.  This message from the  local hospital 9 miles away in Townshend explains the situation:


So even with the spikes in Londonderry and up on Stratton Mountain, it’s pretty safe. But why?  Why is Vermont “safe”?  Because this little hospital  has great equipment, plenty of ventilators, high-tech doctors, etc?  No. (It happens to be the smallest hospital in the United Sates.)  Because Vermont has Medicare-for-All? (Not yet. It passed– Act 48 — but the Governor who had signed it, did not fund it.) Vermont is safe because it is poor and thinly populated, and those two are related.

Yes, it is beautiful, as the tourist industry has made sure everyone knows.  Summer people love the clean rivers and cool nights. Ski people love the mountains and the snow. In between, people who live there all year round try to make a living off “outsiders” who bring in money. In the meantime, Vermonters do a lot of bartering and helping each other out. Food banks are important.  Second hand shops are all over. Please note that the Grace Cottage Hospital link above not only talks reassuringly about the current case situation but also promotes an online auction to raise money.  Last year they raised enough money to buy another hospital bed. So the people fleeing the pandemic in New York where nearly 23,000 people have died are coming to a place where the regional hospital holds an auction (of old furniture,mostly — “antiques”) to buy one hospital bed. Think about it.

“Hard to get to” is why it’s so great once you’re there

Our kids always stress out a lot when we try to get them to come to the old family  home with its barn, sunny deck, large mowed yard, apple trees, well water, sumptuous fresh vegetables, dirt roads to bike on, quiet lakes, clean rivers, waterfalls, swimming holes with nobody in sight, etc etc.  Why do they stress? Because, best case scenario, it is hard to get to.  From the Bay Area if you fly Southwest you have to change in Chicago or St. Louis. Because of the time change you have to leave at 4 in the morning or earlier, and BART doesn’t run that early so you have to take a Lyft or a cab which basically adds another $60 to the price of your ticket. Then you sugar up on muffins and coffee at the airport and sit in a cramper and eat those awful pretzels for 5 hours while you pass over some of the most depressing wild deserts imaginable and think about climate change.  Then comes Midway, if you’re lucky, because there’s a place at Midway to buy Greek food, but that’s followed by arriving late afternoon at Hartford followed by paying at least $100 to a friend from the village to come pick you up and drive you north another 2 or 3 hours.

That’s right, someone has to pick you up because there are no buses into Vermont from the airport.  The only way to get even near by bus is if you fly into Boston on a red-eye and rush to get a once-a-day bus, and that will take you to Keene, New Hampshire and then you’re still nowhere near.  Train? You can take a train to Chicago from Berkeley and get a sleeper, which is great, but once you’re in Chicago the train to Boston is grungy, takes surprisingly long, and you’ve still got to find someone to pick you up at the stop at Windsor Falls, near Hartford.

In other words, even Southern Vermont, which is the more civilized part of Vermont, is hard to get to unless you are driving yourself.  Going up further north?  The Northeast Kingdom might as well be Canada.  Getting from our home to Burlington, which isn’t all the way north, takes about 6 hours, the first hour and a half involves going over Putney Mountain, harpin curves and sometimes pulling off the road to let someone else go by the other direction.

But the main question is, what about Internet?

So people from New York and up and down the East Coast, who can drive to Vermont on their own in just a few hours, are thinking, “Fresh air and cheap real estate? Hardly any cases of COVID-19?We work at home anyway, so why not? Let’s just move to Vermont!”

And then they ask about internet. Can they reliably get on zoom and carry out their stock brokering, their retail, their medical practice, their therapy or yoga practice, their international conferencing, etc. just like they could at home in New Jersey??

Along with being wild, full of fresh air, clean rivers, etc., Vermont also does not have a whole lot of people living there year-round. Nor do the people who live there year round use the internet a whole lot. There is talk about the “last mile” projects — getting services out to people who are living in remote farms on dirt roads that see traffic once a week, where the RR Postal Service leaves the mail in a box two or three miles from the house.  (Should point out that austerity cuts to the PO have reduced even that service; the PO in our town is now open only very weird hours — like 9 am to 10:30 and then closed for two hours and opening again after lunch, which makes is hard for the postal clerk to plan her day.) “Last mile” service sounds good but the Consolidated Communications is a private business and the cost of ‘last mile” way exceeds the $30 a month or so that someone would be willing to pay for what basically means using Facebook as an email service. Towns, for example, don’t normally have websites.  They may have a Facebook page.  Some towns get grants from a foundation to have town meetings videoed.

I am getting questions from potential renters about how responsive is Consolidated Communications if you have a problem. ConComm, which is based in Mattoon, Illinois, took over Fairpoint a couple of years ago.  CC does actually have customer service people staffing the phones in Vermont, which is great.  But they are now being hit by people who suddenly want to move to Vermont and work on line and want hundreds of MBPS bandwidth. This is a shock. CC did not read the news coming out of Wuhan in February and think, “Wow, now everyone in New York is going to want to move to Vermont so we’ve got to staff up.”  Yes, fiberoptic was supposedly installed (strung?) along Route 30 a few years ago.  This did make a difference for us, at least in certain rooms of the house.  I could suddenly use WhatsApp.  But despite many books with whole chapters about pandemics and magazine articles about the relationship of climate change to disease vectors, nobody said, “Sheltering in place means working from home means decreased need for proximity to job locations which means moving somewhere safe and cheap which equals VERMONT! which means increased need for internet in Vermont!”

When I started getting VRBO inquiries back in May  I called CC to get my internet service upgraded and the earliest date possible was mid-July.  A month and a half waiting list. Turns out there is only a total amount of bandwidth available in our part of Vermont. The customer service rep explains it this way: “It’s like a parking lot. When it’s full and there are no more spaces, no one can come in.  You have to wait until someone comes out. And no one is coming out these days.”  

What about other problems that can happen?

Of course, internet depends on electricity just like our bodies depend on water, and anything involving electricity depends on wires coming from a power station.  That means not only your clocks, your lights, and your internet but your well, too. It is likely that there will be a big storm. That’s how water gets here in the summer and snow gets here in the winter.  Climate change is bringing bigger and bigger storms, we know that — our village lost four houses right in the village during the Hurricane Irene flood.  So in a big storm, think about this.  Route 30 sounds like a big highway, right? It’s a two-lane asphalt road overhung with old maples.  In a big storm, it’s highly likely that somewhere between Brattleboro and Manchester, the two big towns about 60 miles apart, a tree will fall on the road and take down the telephone poles that carry the wires that bring electricity and other “services” to the village.  No, we do not have undergrounded utilities. This is not a nice leafy suburb.  Maybe a few years from now, when the  property taxes rise to match the new prices that New Yorkers are paying (and they start paying Vermont state income taxes, too), we’ll do some more undergrounding so that the electricity doesn’t go out every times there’s a storm.  But for now, a typical windstorm will rip out some ancient maple and smack it down across the road and if you’re lucky, it will not hit your car.

So who responds when a tree falls and the electricity (and your internet) goes out?  Eventually, a sheriff will show up with a blinking blue light.  After a while, the power company will send a truck and some guys with yellow vests to try to pull the pole back up and string up the wires.  They may have to come from New Hampshire or even Massachusetts. Some of their crews are probably busy already elsewhere. They are very competent but they don’t hurry.  And they have to come over a mountain which may not be in good shape itself, with more fallen trees.

But the first people on the scene are going to be nearby farmers with tractors and chain saws to get rid of the tree and haul away the logs.  Or they might be the next person who comes along, who will probably be (if it’s not some software engineer from New York who is frantically pumping his phone to fin out what’s going on) a local who will have at least an ax in the back of his pickup, and probably a chain to haul things with.  These guys all know each other and have done this many times before.  But they are not official, they are not tax-funded, and you can’t get mad at them. They are what’s “responsive” in Vermont.

Oh, about cell service

While you’re waiting in your car for these guys (maybe women, too, actually) to clear the road, you may find that you’re in a place between towns (or in some towns, actually ) where there is no cell service so you can’t get on your phone and complain about what’s going on to someone who lives in a less benighted part of the country where they may die of COVID-19 but at least they have  cell service. Townshend, for example, does not have cell service, last time I looked.  and in our town the only cell service is through Verizon because Verizon rents out the church steeple for a cell tower. That’s a substantial part of the church budget right there.

By the way, “responsive” during Hurricane Irene meant that a couple of guys from the village got into their excavators and basically tore apart the flooded river and built a new road with the water running all over them. There were people stranded on the wrong side of the river during that storm.  They appreciated the responsiveness.

Don’t misunderstand me

I am not trying to get people to not come to Vermont. We need the rent money. The town needs the income from people buying pine cone Christmas wreaths, maple syrup, cheese and patchwork aprons.  They also need to have all these old farmhouses and village homes that have been on the market for years without selling, to get them sold and fixed up and lived in so that the village can start collecting the property taxes and business license taxes. Maybe someone will buy that old B&B and fix it up!  The old fire station that’s been sitting empty for 20 years — wouldn’t that make a great house!  Maybe with more money coming in, the village will be able to afford a town municipal water system!  That’s right — the village is running on septic tanks; that’s why there aren’t any restaurants right on the main street. No restrooms, no restaurant.

But people who come to Vermont thinking that they are basically moving to a nicer part of their home city, with all the conveniences of a city without the density that means that you’re exposed to COVID — big hospitals, plenty of beds, shopping, internet, a power grid with backups, post offices open all day, actual police officers, a choice of gas stations and shops, etc etc — if we had that, we wouldn’t be someplace you’d want to come.

Black Lives Matter come to Vermont, too

Vermont and Iowa are the two whitest states in the union. (Our significant Abenaki population looks white to people like me; so does our Quebecois population which was not considered white back in the day).  Nonetheless, Black Lives Matter has made it to Vermont.  Note the reason given in this report from the Digger for not allowing a Black Lives Matter message to be written in chalk on the Route 30 bridge:  “We’ve got people in this town who spend a lot of time and energy trying to beautify the town, and trying to keep it looking like a small Vermont town,”

Black Lives Matter art on Jamaica bridge spurs VTrans policy change

So one of the features of a small Vermont town is no recognition of racism; racism, like good internet, being a feature of cities.









Truck Fire — July 19, 2020

Truck Fire


This seemed to pretty much say it all about what’s going on here now. I can’t resist another photo:

Fire 4

We were on our way to Los Angeles to deliver a grandson to his cousins’ house for a bit of variety during the pandemic shutdown.  We went down I-5 and then up the Grapevine over the Tehachapi Mountains, a long slow climb where there are signs every few miles warning about overheating engines. There are some radiator water access stops.  This was just after we got over the top.

At rest stops along the way we saw social distancing in the parking lots — every other space — and in the restrooms, and on women and children. The only unmasked people were middle-aged white men, walking around fairly aggressively with chins down and big bellies fronted in their USA T-shirts. 

There is a child whom I meet sometimes on walk, a girl about 4 or 5 years old.  She is always with her two young parents. She calls out to me across the street and says hello and seems desperate to talk to someone.  I asked her if she had anyone to play with.  No, she says. The need to get kids back into play is urgent.

The teachers union in Los Angeles (UTLA) has put out an 11-page statement of what they need in order to get the schools open. An article in the LondonReview of Books explains the difference between a technological approach to  the pandemic (vaccines, ventilators)  and a community medicine barefoot doctor approach. The former won’t work. Human beings, it turns out, don’t keep the antibodies in our systems.  Meanwhile, places like Vietnam have stopped the virus, or at least have no deaths. 

The Department of Homeland Security has apparently sent troops in to put down the demonstrations in Portland, Oregon.  The Governor did not call them in and wants them out. 

While it’s not as visually arresting as a truck fire, here is a segment from the 1950’s TV show, the Sid Caesar Show. About minute 4:15 where they’re talking about how to raise money for fixing up playgrounds there’s an explanation of what caused the 2008 crash:










Play vs no play — June 28, 2020

Play vs no play

It’s summer, schools no longer sending out lessons, and kids are starting to run out patience with being cooped up. Also, they miss each other. Small pods of them are starting to show up in parks.

I was up in Cordonices Park today, a beautiful park with a large flat grassy picnic area bordered by a large oak and bay tree-lined hillside riddled with dirt paths. Long flights of stairs climb up the hill. Down at the bottom, a natural creek runs out of a pool under a waterfall.

Kids running all over the place. These are 6-8 year olds (I asked). Certain amount of social distancing going on. One or two maybe wearing masks. Moms down near the creek, looking up to try to follow the little bodies as they scramble up and down the hillside paths.

“I guess they’ve gotta get out of the house,”I say.

“It’s not just that,” says the mom. “It’s developmental. They need each other to play with.”

I was also listening to how they were talking to each other. I suddenly realized what was different – I hadn’t heard conversations like this in months. It was like hearing birdsong in the first few weeks of the shutdown — wow, what was that? And then I noticed what they were doing. I’ll just catch the fragments of conversation that I heard:

Three boys: What did your brother say? He’s not my brother. OK, your friend.

Four boys, running: Where’s the base? Back here! Run, he’s already there. We can get across here. You’ll get wet. I don’t care. Come on!

Group of five boys, splitting up as one goes to help another: There’s Eric! he’s coming up. I’ll go help him. Wait for me! Use this (long vine offered down the hillside). Come on. Wait for us!

Four boys: Have you ever been hit in your eye? Anyone? Have you been hit in the eye? (Three boys stand silent listening, awed.) I have been hit in the eye!

This is play, energetic, focused play, no particular scenario, just the hillside with a lot of trees and a tangle of paths. But in the conversations, which came to my ears as something completely new because I haven’t seen anything like it for nearly four months, I saw the negotiation of identity; giving of approval, encouragement, advice; invitation to join, leading a group and telling a personal history. Rapid deployment, testing and passing along of social skills, something that could not be done by a kid alone in a house with a parent, or on line.

Gorgeous oaks that will be here after the virus has gone, and maybe after we’re gone, too. Over 125,000 dead in the US, half a million worldwide, and the spike going up. EU countries are talking about banning travelers who come from the US. We are hearing indirectly about how other countries are viewing us. A friend in Denmark is developing a curriculum about US racism — you mean there’s something special about US racism? It sounds Hmmmm.

Bottom line right now: we assume we and everyone will get it. We expect to survive but aren’t sure about that. We expect that a vaccine will be developed but that getting it will not be decided fairly. Access to it will be decided by who can pay for it. If you are expendable (people in nursing homes on Medicare, prisoners) you will be last in line. If you are an “essential” worker you will find out what is meant by “essential.” Does it mean that the economy depends on your work? What if there are other people who can do your work if you aren’t available? Is it you or your labor that is essential? Slaves on sugar plantations in the Caribbean had a life expectancy of 3 years. They were replaceable but as time went on they got more and more expensive.

Time to read Black Jacobins which has been on my book pile for months. I am highly recommending Little Fires Everywhere, incidentally, the TV series with Reese Witherspoon, which is better than the book. And for looking into the future, Supernova Era by Liu Cixin.

The reason for reading Liu Cixin is because the picture of what the world would look like if it was run by 13 year olds is not pretty. Readers can draw their own parallels. But the the thirteen year olds he is describing are ones that were provided with standard if not elite educations, not kids packed into bedrooms or apartments for months at a time with no opportunity to learn to play together except on video games where they shoot each other.

Juneteenth in Oakland, retail social distancing and BLM in a nearby park — June 19, 2020

Juneteenth in Oakland, retail social distancing and BLM in a nearby park

Big march in Oakland

In honor of Juneteenth the ILWU has shut down the ports on the West Coast and there is a Black Lives Matter march from the Port of Oakland into central downtown. Thousands of people, as far as I could see. Very much in the spirit of Occupy.

Behind the signs you can just barely see the crowd coming down off the bridge over the freeway.

It’s possible that I should not have jumped out of my car and gone and stood in the middle of the march to take these photos, even though I had my mask on. I was in and out quick, though.

ON my way back into Berkeley I listened to a KPFA interview with people in the new Autonomous Zone around the Capitol in Seattle: after 4 or 5 days of intense police intervention, the police suddenly went away; they have now had two days of a full-scale Occupy, with food, music, medical supplies, meetings, etc. The interviews said that the local merchants are letting people use bathrooms, charging their phones, and putting out tables on the street to serve food. They also mentioned the transmission of experience from Occupy veterans to new young people who were saying, “What do we do next?” And how fast things fell into place.

A good job of retail social distancing

By comparison, here is what it looks like at the entrance to ACE Pastime Hardware on San Pablo Avenue. There is a big guy standing at the front entrance checking to make sure everyone is wearing a mask. He asks you if you know what you are going to buy. You say yes and he asks you what, and he tells you where it is so you can just go straight there — “Aisle 28, then Aisle 42” – and get your item out to the checkout counter. No browsing.

I’m posting this because of my friend in Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Wolf apparently said that he didn’t think masks really made a difference. They are in the “green phase” or re-opening. My friend works at a big grocery store and has been posted at the door to persuade people coming in to wear masks. She says that about 20% of them refuse and some get angry at her.

BLM in our neighborhood park

Apparently earlier this week a group of young Black girls, belonging to a club where they learn rock climbing, came to the park in our very white neighborhood to train. They were shouted at by a wandering woman and called racist names. This is a park with a big rock and people come from all over the Bay Area to climb it. Someone overheard the woman yelling and sent out a message on various neighborhood lists. The immediate result has been a small vigil which will be followed this afternoon by a neighborhood meeting. In the photos below, the orange tape fence has been up there for 13 weeks now, to prohibit anyway from climbing. It has now been ignored -for the last 4 weeks – except for when someone decides that the wrong people are climbing.

The background issue is the whiteness of the hill neighborhoods, dating back to the redlining of the whole East Bay.

What is really different right now is that it is totally normal for people in our neighborhood to object to someone (even someone who is probably in need of mental health assistance) calling out racist remarks. A month ago that behavior might have been tossed off, with “Oh, she’s just another nutcase.” Now, it causes a neighborhood meeting.

On top of the suggestions for a meeting come suggestions (from Joe) about changing the actual demographics of the neighborhood by building or otherwise creating low-income housing, co-op or halfway housing, etc.

The actual meeting today

There must have been 150 people there. From all over the different neighborhoods around here.

Hard to get a picture because they were social distancing. But this kind of thing has never happened before. “This is something different,” everyone is saying.

Hindsight is 20-20 — June 13, 2020

Hindsight is 20-20

Drove into Oakland today, my first venture out of my bubble since March 9, so that’s 3 months. A friend who came over a few nights ago said that since the protests, “Oakland is just one great art gallery.” Downtown Oakland businesses have boarded themselves up, and now the muralists are out painting on the boards. If it was just one or two, that would be interesting, but it’s hundreds. I could not begin to take enough pictures. And this is just along Broadway and Telegraph as you go from about 35th street in towards 12th, and then beyond.

In the meantime, the level of conflict is rising quite fast. There are signature-gathering campaigns in 9 states to recall Democratic governors; Trump appears to have backed off sending in federal troops but there was that amazing thing about his photo-op at St. John’s (the tear gas and flashbangs to wipe away protesters, the army guy who by mistake wore his uniform and apologized, the Bible); but there’s also the continuing spread of peaceful but fierce demonstrations throughout the country with Trump literally hiding in his bunker in the White House.

Talk of police reform is everywhere; Minneapolis is “dismantling” their police. Not sure what that means yet. There are demonstrations to get cops out of schools, demonstrations to “de-fund” police, and it looks as if things like this are actually happening. The movement is ahead of the leaders here, if you can figure out who the leaders are anyway.

The virus continues to spread, both from the lifting of shelter-in-place order in states where they existed to begin with and from states where there are none, and from the demonstrations. Kids are graduating from high school and celebrating with car caravans and fireworks, which puts people who are huddled in their homes on edge.

On the other hand

Spike Lee’s new movie, Da 5 Bloods, was premiered on Netflix last night. It is set in Vietnam. Watching how Vietnam and the Vietnam/American war is depicted was painful and embarrassing. I can’t decide which is worse: the roles played by Asian actors portraying Vietnamese people or the distortions of the landmine (unexploded ordinance) removal effort grabbed to serve as a plot twist. Other important details are also bad. Spike Lee throws in everything from Agent Orange to Crispus Atticus, including some brutal footage that may or may not be genuine but certainly creates a “wow” factor — “How did he get that?” The movie starts out as if it’s a goofy comedy about a bunch of guys on a memory trip together, but then aspires to be a complete “high points of Black experience in the US” laid on top of a set piece Vietnam war movie, only with Black actors. I’ll be curious to see the reviews. Delroy Lindo has a monologue near the end that might win him an Oscar. Watch it, skip the movie.

No “back to normal” — June 3, 2020

No “back to normal”

When this was just a medical crisis, sheltering-in-place was the fix, because it would protect our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. Then we realized that just having enough ventilators wouldn’t keep us from getting sick, so we acknowledged that, great, the healthcare system is OK now, how about us? We’d probably be wearing masks until a vaccine was discovered and distributed to everyone — in the world? Hmmm. (Ebola is still moving in the Congo.) Then there was a lot of talk about how going back to traffic, pollution, gasoline engines, air travel was something normal that we didn’t want to go back to — we’d want a “new normal” that allowed people to work from home, and that might include really getting a Green New Deal. So with masks, vaccines and a Green New Deal we could get a “normal” that would let us get back to business.

Then George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by a police officer and all hell broke loose. I truly hope that these protests will continue. This may be the day when we do not go back to normal.

The American Conflict

The book that has shaped my view of America the most this year (and that’s saying a lot) was published in 1864. It’s The American Conflict: A History of the Great Rebellion in the United States of American, 1860-1864, by Horace Greeley. Greeley was editor of the New York Tribune; the book is written as if it was a collection of feature articles, starting with the first sentence:

The United States of America, whose independence, won on the battle-fields of the Revolution, was tardily and reluctantly conceded by Great Britain on the 30th of November, 1782, contained at that time a populations of a little less than Three Millions, of whom half a million were slaves.

In the second chapter Greeley tells how, at the Ninth Continental Congress ins 1783, the states of Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and South Carolina, which did not have charters granting them as yet unsettled lands extending westward, engaged in negotiations with the states that did, such as Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia, to get those individual states to cede their claims to unsettled land (or most of it) to the United States itself.

The expectation was that ultimately this land would be formed into new states. Land that was affected by this had become, by the time that Greeley was writing, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. One of the terms of the agreement (the “Ordinance”) was that, as of 1800, “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty.”

If only.

The idea was that this Ordinance would be form part of the “fundamental conditions between the thirteen original States and those newly described.”

Greeley continues:

When, on the 19th of April, 1783, Congress took up this plan for consideration, a Mr. Spaight of North Carolina proposed that the article prohibiting slavery be stricken out.

Greeley, as he does throughout this book, reports the vote. Each state, with two representatives, had two votes. Those in favor of keeping the prohibition were from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. Those in favor of striking it out were the delegations from Maryland, Virginia (including Thomas Jefferson), and South Carolina. North Carolina’s vote was divided. The member from New Jersey was not in attendance.

Thus individual votes were 16 in favor of the interdiction against slavery and 7 against it (in favor of striking the interdiction out). The states stood 6 for it and 3 against it. But the Articles of Confederation (which is what bound the States together at that point) required “an affirmative vote of the majority of all the states to sustain a proposition and thus the restriction failed, through the absence of a member from New Jersey, rendering that vote of that state null” (page 39). One vote.

From that point forward, both in history and in chapter after chapter of this enormous but readable book, we see arguments, proposals, laws, votes, elections etc in rising intensity as we draw closer and closer to the Civil War. What was in 1783 a matter of someone showing up at a meeting and casting one vote became, 80 years later, thousands dead on the battlefield.

I have heard of a play or something called “The Gentleman from New Jersey,” referring to this guy who failed to show up. I googled it and found nothing.

So, same story, 160 years later

And today, it’s George Floyd and mass protests all across the country. The protests are almost all peaceful, with people kneeling (Colin Kaepernick’s gesture) en mass in public squares. The protests continue day after day. The sick, insane guy in the White House used “smoke bombs” (tear gas) to clear a path to St. John’s, the church across the street, to pose with a Bible, then hurried back to his bunker to tweet things like “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” and calling for the National Guard to step in. There is now an 8 pm-5 am curfew in the East Bay; the same places that were just starting to open for business (pizza places like Zachary’s) are closing at 6 so that workers can get home before the curfew. The people in the photos of the demonstrations are very mixed — white, black — lots of white people, young people, and they’re wearing masks. They look very disciplined and very serious.

Eight states hold primaries

Nonetheless, eight states and Washington DC held elections yesterday, 153 days before the national election. People are still voting for Bernie — in Pennsylvania he got 19.1 per cent of the votes and in South Dakota he got 23.6. Although for some reason quite a few delegates to the convention are yet to be allocated, right now it’s Biden 1922 to Bernie 1013, with 1991 necessary to claim the candidacy. Biden has made some public (media) appearances recently, which is…. well, about time.

The protests have even reached up into our very white, very quiet neighborhood.

Our grocery store has never been cleaner, though, and the shoppers more disciplined:


A final thought before the next onslaught of news lands: today, the people who are wrapping the situation up into a narrative that is recognizable, credible and — ok –inspiring, are comedians. Comedians?

Trevor Noah, for example, on the Daily Show.

Has it always been comedians? Maybe that’s not the right word for them.

Time to pivot — May 31, 2020

Time to pivot

Watched Stephen Colbert interview Biden:

For the first 20 minutes or more, Biden seems to be still on the debate stage, running against Trump, not leading the opposition. He begins to gather himself after that. But then Colbert asks him one question after another about what his plan is — for infrastructure, for jobs, even for how to distribute any vaccine that may be available in 2021 — very concrete questions that he ought to have concrete answers for, and he doesn’t. He seems to be saying that he will win because people understand how bad Trump is.

He and Colbert both eat some ice cream; it almost looks as if he needs a little sugar to get himself back on track. He picks up a pack of paper towards the end of the interview, as if he was reading from notes.

Colbert’s last question is about his son Bo and how the leaders of the country should respond to the grief people are feeling. He gives this his longest coherent answer. This is his strength, obviously: empathy.

But that was a week ago. Now with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, here is a different response to grief:

And this from my friend Karen Ford in Mississippi (who is Black); she got it from a friend who is white:

This is so true and so WRONG:

I have privilege as a White person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice about it…

I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).

I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson).

I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).

I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).

I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).

I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).

I can sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).

I can sleep (#AiyanaJones).

I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).

I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).

I can go to church (#Charleston9).

I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).

I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).

I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).

I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).

I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).

I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).

I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .

I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).

I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).

I can be a 10yr old walking with family (#CliffordGlover).

I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).

I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).

I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).

I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).

I can run (#WalterScott).

I can breathe (#EricGarner).

I can live (#FreddieGray).

I can visit a loved one in the middle of the night(#DarQuanJones).

I can ask someone to put a leash on their dog when it is required in the public park we are in (#ChristianCooper).


White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.


*I copied and pasted this…please do the same. 

Karen Ford

A Ride Around the Block — May 24, 2020

A Ride Around the Block

Biden won the Hawaii Democratic primary today, 63% to 37% for Bernie, with Bernie not even running. Biden picked up 16 delegates and Bernie got 8, making Biden 1566 delegates so far.

The paper that reported this didn’t bother to mention how many delegates Bernie has: it’s 1007 as of today. There are about 150 delegates committed to other candidates, mostly Elizabeth Warren and Mike Bloomberg.

Nineteen more states still have to hold their Democratic primaries. This includes big states like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Indiana, all with a lot of delegates. Not that Bernie is likely to pick up the high percent of votes necessary to make him the candidate. He’s not campaigning and not running. But he’s going to continue to gather delegates and will come to the convention with between a third and 40% of the delegates. One of the concessions he wrung out of the Democratic Party early in his campaign was that he would be able to seat his delegates, that and that “superdelegates,” the party hacks, would not get to vote in the first round of balloting. See previous post about his joint task forces with Biden.

Seven states have called off their Republican primaries entirely, which is being challenged by Trump Republican opponents as un-democratic.

Trump has urged states to re-open, but Rev.Barber of The Poor People’s Campaign is urging people to stay home, don’t believe the lies — workers who are being called back to work are being sent to their deaths. Rates of COVID-19 deaths among Black people are three times as high as among whites.

As of today, the death toll in the US is 96,000, the most of any country in the world, with the UK coming in second at 36,000. Our death rate is relatively low, however — one third of Spain’s. The NYTime figured that we lost about 36,000 dead due to the late start of the shutdown.

Cook County (that is, Chicago) with 69000 confirmed cases has more than any other county in the country. However, New York City is made up of more than one county, so New York is still ahead.

Propublica has a graphic of how states are doing as they re-open:

California is reopening. Joe and I went out on our bikes to see what things look like:

The Farmers Market is full swing, with people doing social distancing at each booth and wearing masks, and it’s stretched out along both sides of Berkeley City Park. In the middle of City Park, under the trees, is a homeless encampment.
Oakland has closed quite a few streets to cars except for local traffic, in order to give people more space to go outdoors and walk around. This is partly because a lot of the big parks closed when the trails got crowded.

A store that may ver well survive: selling bees and bee-keeping equipment, on Telegraph Ave in Oakland.
Utopia, Eutopia, Labor Relations Sci Fi and Bernie and Biden’s Task Force — May 16, 2020

Utopia, Eutopia, Labor Relations Sci Fi and Bernie and Biden’s Task Force

It has taken me many years to get all these things to show up in the front yard at the same time. That includes the sign.

83,000 dead in the US; none in Vietnam.

The figures from Vietnam are credible; they’ve been subjected to a lot of international scrutiny and people agree that they’re good.

Moving right along: All of America on one stage, celebrating, circa 1943

This is from a book by Robert McCloskey. You may recognize the hand of the artist. He wrote and illustrated the famous book about the ducklings who stopped traffic in Boston, Make Way for the Ducklings. There are bronze statues of the ducklings on the Boston Common right now; their heads are shiny bright from being patted by kids.

This double page spread of a pageant on a platform at a county fair is what “America” was supposed to look like in 1943. 1943 was in the period of the Popular Front effort by the left, a shift that took place all over Europe and in the US. It meant, let’s all get together and beat fascism. In the name of unity, conflicts about socialism and Communism and capitalism were set aside and members of the organized left joined with mainstream political organizations, including the Democratic Party.

There is nothing a quick internet search says about whether McCloskey was intentionally, consciously, part of that shift in any way, but this drawing, from Homer Price,is a fully worked out dissertation on how America could come together. McCloskey was in the Army at the time he wrote Homer Price; when he got out, he and his family moved to an island in Maine where he lived for the rest of his life.

This picture is an example of Utopian thinking — in this case, Utopian art. Every group is represented: Native Americans (played by skinny boys in costume); African Americans (singing gospel music, not exactly on the stage but at least present); women (mom, daughter, part of a family); pioneers (men with guns), and it’s all led by a tubby preacher explaining Manifest Destiny to the county fair crowd, possibly out of a Bible. It’s very hierarchical; nothing about equality going on here, but everyone is at least there, making up a celebration of America, like family gathering when nobody fights. Everyone is on the same platform (more or less). Not like today, right?

Everyone on the same platform and Utopia

Which leads me to the broader idea of Utopia.  The first syllable of “u-topia” could be mean “u’” or “eu” in Greek, so the word could mean either no-place (a place that doesn’t exist or couldn’t exist) or a good place, with “eu” meaning “good”, as in “euphemism” – meaning a polite way to say something that isn’t polite.  So utopian thinking – or utopian method, as some of my CHAT discussion groups are framing it – can mean either thinking about good or bad alternatives to something, not just things that can’t or won’t happen. Thus the Utopian method would be trying out something to see if it worked – a curriculum, a school setting, a housing experiment – and then studying it (that’s the method part) to see what makes it work and what ultimately weakens, fragments, or destroys it. 

This kind of thinking is especially important for social movements because we have to be constantly thinking ahead, trying to figure out what forces are going to be in play tomorrow, next week, next year, and how we can pull out of this moment (whether it’s the pandemic or not) a possible future that will come closest over time to what we think a decent world looks like.

The presence of Utopian thinking activities right in our neighborhood

Right now on the ap NextDoor there is a lively conversation going on about closing or not closing the broad shopping street in our Berkeley, California, neighborhood.  It has many restaurants on it and a good number of small shops. With everything except take-out shut down since March, those shops are going broke. Someone put up the idea of closing the street to traffic and letting the shops do sidewalk vending, including putting tables out so that people could sit social-distanced in the street and eat. The hailstorm of pros and cons that ensued on the list is amazing.  People are really interested in either doing it or not doing it, and have a whole chaos of ideas pro and con. It’s a brainstorm, but no one is taking it the next step (yet) into a strategic planning design. In order to do that, you’d need to do some utopian thinking – what if we did this? What would happen? Another word for this is “thought experiment.”  Of course, in the real world (in a city planning department, for example) you’d quickly get computer models for traffic flow, shadow patterns, drainage, time tables for refuse pick up, etc. What does refuse pickup have to do with utopian thinking?

Utopian Sci Fi

In utopian literature, things like refuse pickup, traffic flow and disability access are the very things that form the bulk of the paragraphs. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2140, where Manhattan is flooded to the second floor by the rising Atlantic Ocean, he talks about parking, growing food, the role of banking and real estate. In Ursula LeGuin’s Birthday of the World, she talks about what early sex education is like if you have a floating gender situation like some amphibians. In Liu Cixin’s Supernova Era,he talks about how you train the next generation to run the world if you have only a few months to do it because by then, everyone over age 13 will be dead (due to an interstellar event worth reading about for its own sake). The role in this played by American kids makes this book something I’d assign as required reading.

My point here is that people, these “utopian writers” are not just fluff. They have thought this stuff through, worked out the relationships. Like Robert McCloskey who decided to draw a picture that showed how America could get everyone on stage at the same time, and made some choices that hurt the heart today, there will be places in the utopian story or the picture where, by trying to work with the hard rules of reality, you negotiate some compromises. But that’s part of the utopian method: you see not just how far into the future you can take the characters in the story, you also watch to see where you have to start chopping off their limbs to fit the vision onto the bed of Procrustes. That’s hard work, hard thinking.  Better to practice doing it mentally before trying it in real life.

Utopian thinking and employment relations shows over 200 strikes since the beginning of March. Someone wants things to be different! What are they asking for? What is their vision? Are they hoping for a raise, or PPE, or do they want to really transform their jobs?

An argument for having people who are studying labor issues read science fiction during the pandemic is to encourage us to think not just in terms of how this pandemic has increased the use of Zoom and given us quiet streets, low air pollution, really good take-out, but also how it has changed employment relationships. I’m not just talking about the lucky few who can work from home. I mean, for example, the  garbage workers in New Orleans who have been on strike for 4 days now. According to an article posted on Portside, they’re striking to get better PPE (everything they handle is infected, they say).  They make $10.25 per hour.  They have now been replaced by prisoners who make 13% of that.  That’s an employment relationship — under coolie conditions – coerced labor!  It’s not one we want, but it’s a different one.  There is no end of creativity going on these days in the world of employment relations! Plenty of people are dreaming up ways to extract more value from the labor of other people. We need to be thinking about what alternative employment relations (conditions of work) look like that are good. That’s utopian thinking. 

Maybe someone is thinking ahead. Wouldn’t that be great?

Apparently Bernie and Biden have agreed on a joint task force. This is good news. Most of the people I talk with just sigh when they think about Biden’s chances of winning in November: he’ll lose, period, no matter how bad Trump is, because Biden just isn’t ….well, someone you’d want to put much effort into. He’s described as “hiding in his basement.” I’m sure he has a regular house to live in; so why do people talk about him hiding in the basement? That’s become a cliche, but it expresses a feeling.

But this task force makes it look as if the Democratic Party is realizing that they can’t win without Bernie’s campaign.

Here’s who is on this task force, according to Elly Nilsen who writes for Vox:

Biden’s picks:

  • Former Secretary of State John Kerry, task force co-chair
  • Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
  • Kerry Duggan, former deputy director for policy to Vice President Biden
  • Former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy
  • Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and co-founder of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Congressional Task Force

Sanders’s picks:

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), task force co-chair and co-author of the Green New Deal resolution
  • Varshini Prakash, co-founder of youth activist group Sunrise Movement
  • Catherine Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice

Criminal Justice Reform

Sanders’s picks:

  • Chiraag Bains, task force co-chair and director of legal strategies at progressive think tank Demos
  • Stacey Walker, supervisor in Linn County, Iowa, and Iowa co-chair of Sanders’s campaign
  • Civil rights attorney and South Carolina state Rep. Justin Bamberg

Biden’s picks:

  • Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), task force co-chair and chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor
  • Tennessee state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus in Tennessee
  • Vanita Gupta, former acting assistant attorney general
  • Former Attorney General Eric Holder
  • Biden campaign adviser Symone Sanders


Sanders’s picks:

  • Sara Nelson, task force co-chair and president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA
  • Stephanie Kelton, professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University and an expert on modern monetary theory
  • Darrick Hamilton, economic professor at Ohio State University whose work focuses on income inequality and socioeconomic stratification

Biden’s picks:

  • Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), task force co-chair and current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Jared Bernstein, former chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Biden
  • Ben Harris, former chief economist and chief economic adviser to Vice President Biden
  • Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
  • Sonal Shah, policy director for Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign


Sanders’s picks:

  • Heather Gautney, task force co-chair and Sanders policy adviser
  • Alejandro Adler, Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University
  • Hirokazu Yoshikawa, New York University professor

Biden’s picks:

  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), task force co-chair and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association
  • Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
  • Maggie Thompson, former executive director of Generation Progress
  • Christie Vilsack, literacy advocate

Health Care

Sanders’s picks:

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), task force co-chair, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and author of the House’s Medicare-for-All bill
  • Dr. Donald Berwick, former director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former Michigan gubernatorial candidate in 2018 and single-payer advocate

Biden’s picks:

  • Former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, task force co-chair
  • Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union
  • New York University professor Sherry Glied, who served in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration
  • Chris Jennings, former health care policy adviser during the Obama administration
  • Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee


Sanders’s picks:

  • Marielena Hincapié, task force co-chair and executive director of the National Immigration Law Center
  • Marisa Franco, director of progressive Latinx group Mijente
  • Javier Valdés, co-executive director of progressive immigration group Make the Road

Biden’s picks:

  • Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), task force co-chair and an original co-author of the Dream Act
  • Cristóbal Alex, Biden campaign adviser
  • Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX)
  • Juan Gonzalez, adviser to Vice President Biden
  • Nevada Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall

This came via Portside from Ella Nilson on Vox: Ella Nilsen covers Congress and the Democrats for Vox. Before coming to Vox, she worked at the Concord Monitor newspaper in New Hampshire, where she covered Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the 2016 primary.