Thursday, April 15, 2021

US abandons the women of Afghanistan

I agree with most of the critics of the Afghanistan withdrawal. The Taliban will almost certainly overrun the country in short order. It will be a disaster for women. It will provide a safe haven for terrorists. We are abandoning everyone who fought along with us. It will be a humanitarian disaster beyond reckoning....If there were any way we could win this war, we would have figured it out by now....But the consequences of our failure will be enormous. It's best to face up to that.
No, it would be best if we didn't make this shameful retreat at all. 

The big mistake on Afghanistan was the invasion of Iraq that was based on the WMD lie. That historic blunder diverted resources and attention from Afghanistan from which that effort never recovered.

From the Guardian:

“The Americans are leaving,” said Basireh Heydari, a Herat University student. “We have terrible days ahead with the Taliban. I’m worried they won’t let me leave the house, let alone what I’m doing now.”....With Nato allies such as Germany already announcing on Wednesday that they will follow Washington's lead and exit the country, Afghans fear an intensification of fighting between the national government and the Taliban....

Violence against civilians, especially women and children, has surged over the past year, according to UN statistics released on Wednesday, and Taliban control of the country is greater than at any point in the past two decades....

But a return to hardline Islamist rule could mean the rollback of one of the intervention’s least disputed achievements – the lifting of a Taliban prohibition of female education. 

On Wednesday, Heydari and her friends were trying to absorb the news as they sat in a rickshaw by the university gates. “I have only one wish, and that’s to finish my studies and of course work, but with the Taliban coming, I don’t think I’ll reach it,” she said.

Meanwhile, the war against the American Taliban continues.

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Monday, April 12, 2021


Letter to the editor in today's SF Chronicle:

Parklets are unfair. They are unfair to the bookstore, dress shop, dry cleaners, etc. They take away parking the other merchants need. They only help the adjacent restaurants.

It’s time to return to pre-pandemic numbers.

Jeff Dennis
Point Richmond

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Sunday, April 11, 2021


Hemingway's mocking the Lord's Prayer in A Clean Well Lighted Place was missing from the PBS documentary:
Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.

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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Masonic Avenue and the pandemic

Sometime last year or early this year---the MTA doesn't date this stuff---the city issued another bulletin on impending "emergency" changes to Masonic Avenue, a busy city street that it has long been obsessed with "improving":
The SFMTA will soon implement initial segments of the approved Temporary Emergency Transit Lanes for both the 43 Masonic and 44 O’Shaughnessy Muni routes. This spring, at several points along these routes and on various streets, we will install transit lanes and left-turn restrictions to keep our city moving....Throughout the course of the pandemic, the SFMTA has focused on maintaining a core service network that serves essential workers and those who depend on Muni for essential trips.
Like a lot of politicians, transportation bureaucrats apparently think they have to do something during an emergency to show the public that they're being "pro-active." 

Of course Muni has no way of knowing who its passengers actually are or why they are using the system, whether they are "essential workers" making "essential trips." Like me they are mostly people who can't afford cars with no other way to make trips in the city too long to do on foot.

The notion that somehow muni buses are being delayed by the pandemic---a public health emergency---is questionable, since many passengers quickly stopped even riding buses that clearly posed an increased infection risk, which is why Muni has abandoned many its lines in the last year.

Jim Herd at San Francisco Citizen recently noticed that the above notice was taken down from its website by the SFMTA, presumably because the agency has abandoned plans to eliminate traffic lanes on that major North/South street in this part of the city.

After receiving the above notice last year, I wondered what it meant in practical terms:
Masonic now has two traffic lanes in each direction. Hard to believe that even City Hall is dumb enough to remove another traffic lane with this project, which would leave a street that carries more than 32,000 vehicles a day with a single lane in each direction!
A month later, Herd and I raised the Masonic issue again. Apparently we're the only ones in the local media interested in City Hall's grotesque anti-car policies. [Have to mention Heather Knight's interest as a cheerleader for those policies]

I suppose we should be relieved that it turns out City Hall isn't dumb enough to take away more traffic lanes on Masonic Avenue. [Later: as matter of only historical interest now, there was serious opposition to the city's original screw-up of Masonic.]

Typical that the bloated agency made no announcement about the change, like it stonewalled stories about the UC study showing how City Hall, supposedly worried about the safety of city cyclists, failed to even count serious cycling accidents in the city.

Typical too that the local media let the city get away with it.

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Friday, April 09, 2021

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Thursday, April 08, 2021

Seniors left out, because "it's all about the kids"

Letter to the editor in today's SF Chronicle:

I agree with the letter writers regarding park closures being discriminatory to many. 

Heather Knight’s article gives some of the solutions being proposed, but providing parking in the underground Music Concourse Garage to low-income and the disabled does not allow for seniors and those with medical conditions that make walking distances a problem. 

Many have mobility issues but are not eligible for handicapped status. Bus service in my neighborhood was only every 30 minutes, and often did not come. Because of COVID-19, I now have no bus service and question if it will ever return.

When my line ran, connections were needed to get anywhere, making it even more challenging for seniors. In addition, many of us live in steep hilly neighborhoods, and this senior is not able to take on the challenge or danger of riding a bicycle in San Francisco. 

Some argue that only 300 parking spaces are being taken away, but those are the spaces closest to the museum, Academy of Sciences, the Music Concourse, and other major park attractions. Regrettably due to age, medical conditions, and poor and non-existent public transportation, many will be left out in the cold if the park closures continue.

Suzanne Kirkham
San Francisco

Rob's comment:
When they claim that "it's all about the kids," you know it's bullshit. But that's what the anti-car zealots are now claiming about Golden Gate Park.

They also make this familiar claim:
Back when cars drove on JFK, the city classified it as one of the most-dangerous streets in San Francisco.
But the anti-car City Hall says this about every busy street in the city, and they never provide any real evidence for the claim. Instead, they sometimes push outright lies, like they did on Masonic Avenue.

How many accidents happen on JFK and who was responsible? City Hall never gives us that information about JFK or any other street in the city.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Excitement at the Examiner

Lots of excitement at the SF Examiner these days about Carly Schwartz, its new editor. 

The boss, Clint Reilly, is excited about hiring Schwartz:
“I’m excited by everything Carly brings to the table: deep, firsthand knowledge of San Francisco, an entrepreneurial spirit, nuanced understanding of digital media platforms and industry trends, a keen editorial perspective, and sparkling educational credentials, among other things. She is uniquely qualified to help us build The Examiner of tomorrow.”
Schwartz is excited about her new job:
“As we emerge from the pandemic, I’m excited to create a platform that unites San Francisco’s diverse communities through storytelling, and to find new ways to make an impact under the umbrella of a storied legacy brand.”
The name seemed vaguely familiar. A quick search of the archives turned up an example of Schwartz's "deep knowledge of San Francisco," when she belatedly joined the mob formed to destroy Ross Mirkarimi back in 2012, though she didn't know much about Mirkarimi's policy positions or whether he was actually guilty of anything.

That's the thing about joining a mob---no credentials or qualifications are required.

But an important qualification Schwartz has to be the SF Examiner's editor: She's a dedicated cyclist: Riding A Bike Every Day Will Change Your Life For The Better.

Like the SF Chronicle, under Schwartz's leadership the Examiner will surely continue to support the bike fantasy in the city, like this recent story: Anti-car in the Examiner: Driving will be the new smoking.

And continue censoring stories that undermine that fantasy.

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Boris Johnson: The Clown King

Jonathan Bak in the Times Literary Supplement:

....The most crucial question for a public inquiry will be not whether the UK's response to the pandemic was bad, but why it was so the UK's highly centralized system of government, the abilities and character of the prime minister dominate any crisis response. 

It is impossible to read these pages without bemoaning that, in the nation's worst crisis since 1945, Britons are governed by someone so obviously unsuited for the job. Over the past year, the man who urged the nation "to take back control" refused to take decisions and sought to displace responsibility wherever possible. 

In his masterly recent portrait of Johnson in the Guardian, Edward Docx describes the prime minister as a clown whose rise to power was built on persuading the audience to collude in the secret that all human endeavour is no more than a complicated joke. 

Johnson, on receiving bad news in his daily meetings, tends to keep his head bowed. He then looks up quickly, his eyes darting around the room, to find someone to join him in a rueful smirk. The NHS needs more ventilators? "Let's call it Operation Last Gasp". 

The temperament behind that humour guided the country on its bleakly circular trajectory. Escaping from the cycles of lockdown and release will require not just vaccines but a different, steadier approach; perhaps even a different leader.....

Rob's comment:
Note that the worst handling of the pandemic has been by conservative governments: Johnson in the UK, Trump in the US, and Bolsonaro in Brazil.

From the Guardian story:

....Research by Imperial College shows that up to 26,800 deaths could have been prevented had the first lockdown come just one week earlier. 

Then came the care homes disaster, the premature lifting of the first lockdown, the ignoring of Sage throughout September. And only a clown would begin the October announcement of a second lockdown with the phrase “good evening and apologies for disturbing your Saturday evening with more news of Covid” when the nation was already stiff with the legions of dead and had been waiting all day to hear from its leader. 

The run-up to Christmas was a catastrophe of mismanagement that all-too-inevitably became the January of 30,000 more people dead. Are we supposed to forget this legacy and “move on”? That is what Johnson is now tacitly suggesting. 

Like all storytellers, he knows the public remember endings, less so beginnings and seldom the middle. He did all he can, he says. He knows it’s not true, but that is what he is selling....

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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Bogus "Slow Streets" emergency continues

Mary Miles (SB #230395)
Attorney at Law for Coalition for Adequate Review
San Francisco, CA 94102

SFMTA Board of Directors
One S. Van Ness Avenue, 7th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103

DATE: April 5, 2021

PUBLIC COMMENT MTA BOARD AGENDA APRIL 6, 2021, ITEM 12, “Slow Streets Phase 4”

This is Public Comment opposing approval of Agenda Item 12 before the SFMTA Board of Directors on April 6, 2021, "Slow Streets Phase 4." Please distribute this to all members of the MTA Board and place a copy in applicable files on the Project.

MTA's allegedly "temporary" Slow Streets Project has, since April 21, 2020 illegally closed city streets to through vehicle travel on more than 50 streets throughout San Francisco, including access to public parks, the Pacific Ocean, and view areas that are now closed to motor vehicles.

After developing its "Phase 4" in total secrecy, MTA now announces it will close 22 more streets under the pretense that there is an "emergency" due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (See MTA Slow Streets, Phase 4, Exemption No. 2021-000804ENV, p. 2.) No emergency exists within CEQA's legal definition for any of City's obstructions. 

According to its claimed "emergency" exemption, MTA's "Phase 4" streets include major thoroughfares providing access to medical and other facilities on Steiner, Lyon, 12th Avenue, and Bayview neighborhood streets providing access to industrial, work and neighborhood areas. Steiner is a major north-south corridor serving medical facilities on that street and on Sutter, Post, Geary and other areas, as well as parks, schools, playgrounds, and cultural amenities.

City's falsehood about "temporary" emergency projects has now morphed into MTA's real goal, which is to make Slow Streets permanent, obstructing access on critical arterials and neighborhood streets, affecting thousands of travelers and residents throughout San Francisco. 

Phony surveys by anonymous sources claim "support," but those surveys were taken after those streets were closed among people who claim that recreational walking, bicycling, and skateboarding in the middle of public streets was required because of a critical "emergency." It was not and is not. The charade is accentuated by the recent boast by the mayor that the emergency is over, along with her announcement of reopening eateries and other businesses that formerly required social distancing.

Even if MTA could lawfully issue a different exemption for the Slow Streets project that it has illegally segmented in four "phases," City’s new exemption (No. 2021-000804ENV) does not fall within CEQA’s Statutory Exemption for an emergency, which can only be a “sudden, unexpected occurrence, involving a clear and imminent danger, demanding immediate action to prevent or mitigate loss of, or damage to, life, health, property, or essential public services,” including “fire, flood, earthquake, or other soil or geological movements, as well as such occurrences as riot, accident, or sabotage.” (Pub. Res. Code § 21060.3 [“Emergency”], emphasis added.)

The emergency exemption under CEQA is not applicable to MTA’s closing public streets to cars so that non-essential recreational activities, like bicycling, children’s play, and walking can occupy public streets. Instead, that exemption is only for serious emergencies where peril to life and property is an imminent danger.

The narrowly construed CEQA standards for an emergency exemption are not met by MTA’s desire to exclude and delay the vast majority of travelers in motor vehicles and on transit on public streets in San Francisco on behalf of the less than 2 percent who travel by bicycle. Nor does motor vehicle travel impair in any way bicyclists’ or pedestrians' use of streets and sidewalks for essential trips.

Even if the City’s COVID directives allow trips by any mode for essential travel, MTA’s actions are not supported by any evidence that sidewalks in the Slow Streets Project do not already accommodate essential travel by pedestrians, and that existing bicycle facilities, including many dedicated lanes, do not already accommodate essential trips by bicycles.

Also the City has provided the public no evidence that those now using bicycles, scooters, or foot travel on slow streets are essential workers commuting to work.

Moreover, the Project is preempted and is unconstitutional under the California and United States Constitutions, which prohibit closing public streets to travelers, including those in motor vehicles. (See, e.g., Rumford v. City of Berkeley (1982) 31 Cal.3d 545.) The Project also plainly conflicts with the California Vehicle Code.

Since MTA’s Project and its claimed exemptions are illegal under CEQA, the Project and those exemptions must be rejected.

Mary Miles

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Monday, April 05, 2021


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Sunday, April 04, 2021

Good news: Church attendance declining

From the Daily Beast:

....According to a new Gallup poll released this week, only 47% of Americans polled in 2020 belong to a house of worship, which is the first time that number has fallen below half of the country since they started polling Americans on this question.

But what's really interesting is that the collapse in church membership has happened mostly over the past two decades. Since Gallup started recording these numbers decades ago, church membership rates were relatively steady, with only the smallest decline over the decades. In 1937, 73% of Americans belong to a church. In 1975, it was 71%. In 1999, it was 70%. But since then, the church membership rate has fallen by a whopping 23 percentage points.

....Once an adult actively chooses to belong to a church, it's hard to admit that you were wrong and now want to abandon the whole project. 

But young adults, even those who went to church with their parents, do have to make an active choice to join a church as adults. And many are going to look at hypocritical, power-hungry ministers praying over an obvious grifter like Trump and be too turned off to even consider getting involved.

....Robert P. Jones, author of "White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity," spoke with Salon about how the decline in religion is concentrated largely among young people. 

There's "a culture clash between particularly conservative white churches and denominations and younger Americans," he explained, noting that young people were particularly critical of anti-science and homophobic rhetoric from religious leaders.

"[C]onservative white Christians have lost this argument with a broader liberal culture," he explained, including "their own kids and grandchildren."

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Saturday, April 03, 2021

"Don't shut us out"

Letter to the editor in today's SF Chronicle:

Please reopen John F. Kennedy Drive to cars so that all citizens of San Francisco can have access to the venues along this route. Throughout the park there are a plethora of paths, trails and bike lanes for young folks with good mobility who walk, ride, skate, scooter, etc. 

But seniors with limited mobility are denied access when roads are closed. While I understand that we, the senior citizens of San Francisco, are a minority, we deserve to be considered in plans for our Golden Gate Park. 

We have supported this city and this park for over half a century. Places like the Botanical Garden, Academy of Sciences, museums, Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden, etc., are supported by our funds and our hours of volunteering. 

Don’t shut us out.

Lynette Porteous
San Francisco

Rob's comment:
The anti-car movement has a long history of trying to deny access to Golden Gate Park. See Anti-Car jihad targets Golden Gate Park from 2006 and Only the bike people opposed the garage from 2007.

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Friday, April 02, 2021

Spring Break for grandma

Okay to call out people who break COVID restrictions

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Maybe this light at the end of the tunnel isn't a fire.

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Thursday, April 01, 2021

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Put it in the fucking book

From David Remnick's New Yorker story about great American writer, Phillip Roth:

“You know what Chekhov said when someone said to him ‘This too shall pass?’ Roth told [his biographer]. 'Nothing passes.' Put that in the fucking book.”

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Biden and high-speed rail

It's good to see no mention of the dumb California high-speed rail project in Biden's American Jobs Program

And there's this in the LA Times:
Amid the bounty of funding, the biggest transportation project in the nation, the $100-billion, high-speed rail project, will have to compete for funding with lesser-known proposals in California. Its construction problems, cost growth and delays have muddied its future. “The demands for political support from other programs are significant,” [Rep. John]Garamendi said. “The funding for high-speed rail must contend with the other programs. [It] will get funding, but it will not get funding that beggars the other projects.”

....The California bullet train has pushed for a big piece of the money. Supporters suggested the Biden administration support $40 billion for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line, enough to potentially bore tunnels through three mountain chains, but the proposal went nowhere, according to individuals with knowledge of the talks....
Good to see too that state Democrats are increasingly skeptical about the project:
Indeed, the bullet train faces a tough fight even securing a legislative appropriation of $4.1 billion in its own bond funds it is seeking this year for its Central Valley construction plan. The California Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution last year that would block some of the planned spending in the Central Valley as a prelude to shifting money to Bay Area and Southern California segments of the project.

Support in the House transportation committee is uncertain. Committee Democrats Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and Marc DeSaulnier (D-Concord) both cast votes as California senators against appropriating money to the bullet train in 2012, against the wishes of former Gov. Jerry Brown....

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Monday, March 29, 2021

Running and safety in the city

The Chronicle's Heather Knight in a recent column:
On Sunday, Julie Nicholson ran for the first time through the spot in the Panhandle where a car had nearly killed her. She was jogging on Jan. 4 last year when a car speeding north on Masonic Avenue blew through a red light, hit another car and careened into the park — straight at her. She flew 30 feet, landing with a thud....She broke her neck and her back, and her head was bleeding....What followed was a grueling eight months of recovery, but she’s OK now. And on Sunday, she embarked on a miraculous endeavor: a half-marathon along some of San Francisco’s most dangerous streets, ending at that same spot in the Panhandle. She hadn’t had the nerve to run there since the crash.
As a jogger who also lives in that part of town, my question: Why jog on the street when we have the wonderful Kezar Stadium nearby? No cars, no carbon monoxide, no bikes, no dogs, and a great running surface.

Knight accompanies Nicholson on that run for safety on city streets:
And on Sunday, she embarked on a miraculous endeavor: a half-marathon along some of San Francisco’s most dangerous streets, ending at that same spot in the Panhandle. She hadn’t had the nerve to run there since the crash....That’s why it was important and meaningful for a dozen runners, also in yellow shirts, to join Nicholson for her run. Some, like her, were survivors. Highlighting their own injuries and others’ devastating deaths is crucial to ensuring the longtime problem is on City Hall’s priority list.
Knight refers to the city's Vision Zero slogan that masquerades as a safety policy:
Back in 2014, San Francisco officials, rattled by the previous year’s 34 traffic deaths, pledged to end traffic fatalities within a decade, adopting a plan they called Vision Zero. But three years from the deadline, there are almost as many deaths as when the initiative began. Last year, despite people sheltering-in-place and the roads far emptier than normal, 29 people died on city streets. No year since the adoption of Vision Zero has seen fewer than 20 deaths.
That's because Vision Zero was always bullshit, a slogan, not a real safety policy. The city's Vision Zero website has a bar graph entitled How Are We doing? that tracks traffic fatalities back to the seemingly arbitrary year of 2006.

Turns out in 2006 we did the same as we did last year, with around 30 traffic deaths. (See Vision Zero hits the wall.)

More from Knight:
Then Nicholson and the others ran to John F. Kennedy Drive and 30th Avenue in Golden Gate Park. That’s where Heather Miller, 41, was killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding her bike on June 22, 2016. The driver, 19-year-old Nicky Garcia, was later arrested and charged with murder, vehicular manslaughter, and hit and run.
It's clearly impossible to prevent people from stealing cars and speeding through the city. What's the moral of that awful story? Knight's lame attempt at one:
Strangely, the state controls cities’ abilities to make proactive changes like lowering speed limits and installing automated speed enforcement cameras to ticket those blasting through our streets. Legislators are trying yet again to get that changed in Sacramento this year after previous no-brainer attempts failed. Isn’t it interesting how our supposedly progressive state does so many things so backward?
It's a "no-brainer" that the state should allow 58 counties to choose their own traffic laws? Not to mention that people like Garcia obviously don't care what the speed limit is.

Once upon a time, Heather Knight seemed to have a more realistic sense of what was happening on city streets. 

Now she apparently thinks that the situation can be cured by more enforcement (see No relationship between tickets and fatalities) and more traffic cameras (see Vision Zero crashes into reality).

It's not safe to ride a bike or run on city streets, and there's nothing City Hall can do to change that.

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Saturday, March 27, 2021

West Virginia and Biden's Manchin problem

Karim Doumar interviews Ken Ward, a reporter for ProPublica and the Mountain State Spotlight:

Karim Doumar: There's this national narrative of Joe Manchin as a Democrat in a deep red state, navigating a series of wedge issues to survive politically, but a lot less attention is paid toward him as a politician being responsive specifically to needs of voters who elected him. Do you think that's a fair characterization? And what do you think people who are reading that kind of stuff are missing about residents and voters in the state?

Ken Ward: The real sticking point for me with the way the national narrative is [it’s] as if the goal of politics is to decide whether red or blue wins, as opposed to looking at what's being accomplished either way. With Sen. Manchin, I'm looking at: What is it that his constituents elected him to do? And is he serving them? Or to what extent in some cases might he not be serving them?

The example that is in my wheelhouse reporting-wise is: What is he going to do in his role on the Energy Committee on climate change issues? So much of the narrative is more about whether he is going to help President Biden achieve his legislative goals on that or not, as opposed to the parts of it that I think are important. 

Is he going to be successful in insisting that any sort of action about climate change that might further reduce the ability of states like West Virginia to rely on fossil fuels for the economy, is he going to do something to make sure that the states that would be hurt economically by that have something else in place, some sort of just transition for coal communities, which has been this kind of elusive concept?

KD: Can you talk about West Virginia, its relationship to coal and natural gas, and what role he's had in that?

KW: Joe Manchin has a unique connection to West Virginia and its coal industry. Let's be clear that coal from West Virginia and coal communities from West Virginia helped build the country. They helped make America an industrial power. They helped win a couple of world wars. Coal from West Virginia has been important for the rest of the country.

It's been more of a mixed bag for West Virginia because while West Virginia is the historically largest coal producer in the country, West Virginia is one of the poorest states. So the big existential question is, if coal is so great for West Virginia, why is West Virginia so poor?

The much oversimplified but still accurate answer is because so much of the wealth that comes out of the ground from coal is going someplace else. So right now, with coal and natural gas, West Virginia is at this really historic pivot point in its lifetime. 

Coal is continuing to decline, and natural gas has risen in its place. In West Virginia, it's become a more politically and economically powerful industry. Production has skyrocketed, but we're seeing the same thing: that some of the places where natural gas is produced, and where people bear the burden of extracting it from the ground, are among the state's poorest places. Why is that? The answer, of course, is somewhat similar: A lot of the wealth is going someplace else.

I would say [Manchin’s] most visceral connection with the coal industry is his uncle was one of 78 miners who died in 1968 in a horrible explosion at the Farmington mine in north-central West Virginia. That explosion led to the passage of federal mine safety legislation. His family was partially supported by the coal industry. At the same time, his family felt the unique pain of what too many other West Virginia families have felt. So he should understand this kind of complicated relationship better than most politicians.

KD: One of the ways for people to understand politicians is to look at how they've responded to crises and disasters. You've covered the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster and Sago Mine disaster. Can you talk a little bit about what you learned about Joe Manchin while you were covering those disasters?

KW: The Sago Mine disaster happened in 2006. And 12 miners were killed in that explosion. A few weeks after that, there was a mine fire at the Aracoma Mine. Two miners died in that. Then in 2010, 29 miners were killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. Joe Manchin was governor for all of those.

And so he got to play this role in this theater that we have in West Virginia over these mine disasters, where what happens is, oh my God, the whistle blew, there was an explosion at the mine. All the families rush to a school or a church or some building nearby. And they huddle there and wait for news while the mine rescue teams are looking for them.

Joe Manchin got to play the role of the guy who comes out and briefs the media and the families about where things stand. And he rushed very quickly after the Sago Mine disaster to get the Legislature here to push through a historic law to improve mine rescue capability. You would think you would have excess air for them to breathe and other sorts of emergency equipment, but America didn't while other countries did. So Joe Manchin pushed through legislation to address that.

But then there's this other scene that really sticks in my mind. After the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, when we all spent about a week waiting and hoping that some of these miners may have survived, that they were huddled breathing extra oxygen that was in the mine because of Joe Manchin. But it turned out they didn't. 

So [after] this weeklong series of periodic briefings, Gov. Manchin comes out and he talks about how the Women's Auxiliary in the community where this happened had been bringing food to the media, who had gathered to cover the story, and how typically and wonderfully West Virginia that was that they were making sure that all of these folks from out of state who were there to cover this tragedy were fed.

He was talking about this in a way that, gosh, there's a good story here for West Virginia too, because look at what good people we are that we fed all of these reporters, as opposed to this sense of outrage that 29 more coal miners got blown up needlessly.

Now I don't doubt for a second that Joe Manchin actually was outraged. And Don Blankenship, the CEO of the company that owned that mine, Joe Manchin has been in a longtime feud with him since. But when the curtain was coming down on that scene, outside the Upper Big Branch Mine, he wanted to tell the story of what good people this Lady's Auxiliary was.

It just struck me as almost an acceptance that this is the theater that we're going to go through in West Virginia, periodically, if we're going to rely on the coal industry.

KD: You mentioned that since then he's had a feud with Don Blankenship. Is that typical of his relationship with a lot of the people who run the mining companies?

KW: I don't think so at all. I went for years to the West Virginia Coal Association’s annual meetings, and Sen. Manchin was always on the agenda as a speaker. When many people in West Virginia felt that the Obama administration was singling out the coal industry, Joe Manchin was very squarely on the side of the coal industry. I don't think that he counts many coal CEOs on a Joe Manchin enemies list. They're more likely on a list of people who contributed to his campaign.

KD: You've reported extensively on the current Gov. Jim Justice and his business empire. What is their relationship like?

KW: The story there is that Joe Manchin denies that he was directly involved in convincing Jim Justice to run, but he was a major early supporter when Jim Justice, who had been a Republican, became a Democrat to run for governor in 2016. And Joe Manchin was his most visible and vocal supporter in that run.

Very shortly after that, less than a year after he took office, Gov. Justice announced at a Donald Trump rally in Huntington, West Virginia, that he was switching parties back to becoming a Republican. And so that started this feud between Justice and Manchin. 

You often don't get senators delving down into state political issues to that extent anymore, but Manchin has done that on numerous occasions to criticize the way Jim Justice was running the state. Most recently, when Jim Justice ran for reelection in 2020, Manchin supported Ben Selango, the Democratic nominee and campaigned for him.

KD: It looks like the next thing that Biden wants to do is pass an infrastructure bill. Manchin already came out and said he wanted to do it with Republican support. In your reporting and in reporting from the Mountain State Spotlight team, if you could write up an infrastructure bill for West Virginia, what does West Virginia need?

KW: There's a certain lore to that for Joe Manchin on infrastructure that's especially strong, because of course, West Virginia for decades had Sen. Robert C. Byrd, and Robert C. Byrd was proud to be the Prince of Pork. We've got roads and bridges and schools, and all sorts of public buildings all over the state, institutes of higher learning, and lots and lots of federal money that came here because of Sen. Byrd's position. So that's like the ideal for someone like Joe Manchin. 

But he's not the chair of the Appropriations Committee. So he's not necessarily in the same position to pour the pork here except to the extent that he can hold his vote over the person who is.

West Virginia continues to lag behind in lots of different kinds of infrastructure that would help the country. We have old and crumbling infrastructure for drinking water. We have old (and in many places nonexistent) infrastructure for sanitary sewers. Many parts of West Virginia still, despite billions of dollars from the Appalachian Regional Commission for Highway Construction, lag behind in having good roads. West Virginia has a lot of needs for aid related to schools.

But the biggest infrastructure worry is that West Virginia spent 100 years mining coal, and a lot of the good coal is gone. A lot of the other coal that's left isn't going to be mined because of climate change and because of cheap, natural gas. 

So what kind of infrastructure can West Virginia get that would enable it to have another kind of economy? Is that more federal money for wind power, or for solar power or job retraining? The sort of infrastructure that West Virginia most desperately needs is infrastructure that allows communities to find another path forward.

Unfortunately, there's no quick and easy answer, but there are lots of ideas out there. The Abandoned Mine Land Program is a federal program to clean up abandoned mines. The same kind of work running a bulldozer on an active surface mine? Same guy can run a bulldozer cleaning up an abandoned mine. 

You have a lot of places in West Virginia where Joe Smith company might put this cleaner, futuristic economic development project, but they can't because the water and the sewer in that community aren't any good, and there's no flatland that isn't marred by an old mind site. So can we spend more money on those kinds of things?

KD: Do you have any insight on the important climate questions you’ve mentioned? On where he will lean?

KW: I think it's gonna depend on what he thinks he can get. There was a grand compromise, a long, long time ago, where John L. Lewis, who was the legendary president of the United Mine Workers of America, agreed to go along with mechanization of the mines, bringing in big machines underground that were going to cost hundreds of thousands of miners their jobs over a couple of decades. 

He went along with it partly because I think he thought it was inevitable, but also because he got out of it the creation of UMW health and retirement funds and a series of medical clinics around the coalfields for miners and their families. So the question for Manchin is, is there some grand compromise around climate change, where he can get what he thinks West Virginia really needs in exchange for going in favor of a bill that his friends in the coal industry may not really want?

Rob's comment:
Manchin's problem---and Biden's Manchin problem---is that Trump beat Biden in West Virginia by almost 40 points.

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Friday, March 26, 2021

Georgia: Jim Crow 2.0

White men make the law in Georgia

The Daily Beast:

A photo of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing the state’s new restrictive voting bill into law on Thursday night quickly went viral, thanks to the gaggle of white Republican men standing around him, celebrating a bill that will mostly affect Black voters....The men are standing below a painting of a notorious slave plantation in Wilkes County. 

A guide from Georgia Council of the Arts confirms the painting is titled Brickhouse Road (Callaway PLNT). It depicts the Callaway Plantation, once a 3,000-acre plantation that owned up to 100 slaves. 

Their master was so cruel he built a quasi-jail on the property for unruly slaves, and set dogs on those who tried to escape, according to an oral history from Mariah Callaway, a woman who was born into slavery on the plantation in 1852. 

Georgian voter rights activist Stacey Abrams has dubbed the voter suppression bill “Jim Crow 2.0.”

Black Georgia lawmaker arrested for knocking on the door where Governor Kemp was signing the voter suppression law, a good metaphor for what's happening in Georgia and the country.

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Mass shootings and the Second Amendment lie

Letter to the editor in today's NY Times:

How many people have to die in mass shootings before there is the political will to pass reasonable gun control legislation such as a renewed assault weapons ban?

Initial reports suggest that the Boulder, Colo., gunman used an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle. Similar weapons were used in the Aurora movie theater shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Orlando nightclub shooting, Las Vegas shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and Tree of Life synagogue shooting.

Experience shows that an assault weapons ban would save lives. The number of mass shootings with six or more fatalities fell 37 percent during the 10-year period beginning in 1994 when an assault weapons ban was in effect as compared with the preceding 10-year period. 

After the ban expired in 2004, the number of mass shootings with six or more fatalities rose 183 percent over the ensuing 10-year period.

Thoughts and prayers won’t stop the bloodshed and tears. But a well-crafted assault weapons ban would reduce the number and lethality of mass shootings.

Stephen A. Silver
San Francisco

Rob's comment:
This situation has been created by conservative/Republican governments over the years based on the Second Amendment lie. Instead of dealing with their gun fetish in discussions with their therapists, they have inflicted it on the country.

It's contemptible and unacceptable. If Biden and Democrats can get rid of the filibuster, the country can deal with the gun madness and other serious issues that Republicans are preventing from being addressed.

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