Logic, schmogic.

An open letter to the privileged Texas Senator I heard on NPR today.

You are not very bright, sir. The NPR story was about a Texas county sheriff who has taken the position that she won’t turn anyone over to ICE unless the agency had a warrant, and that her doing so it would make her communities less safe. You ridiculed that idea, saying that “protecting people who are breaking the law so other people won’t break the law” lacks any type of logic. I could hear the sneer in your voice.

Leaving aside your mansplaining (you are telling an experienced sheriff how to do her job, and what will and won’t make her county safer) and the constitutional issues (the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, and the Bill of Rights generally, protect all people in this country: citizen, green card holder, undocumented persons), she is right on the money that over-aggressive enforcement is an invitation to crime.

Say you have several arrests like the domestic violence taken from inside a courtroom by ICE, or the DACA kid arrested at his home. Before long, people without papers will refuse to contact law enforcement when they are the victims of a crime. Abused women will stay with their abusers, victims of muggings will nurse their wounds in private.

The criminal element will recognize this, and start targeting “illegals.” Absent leaving a dead body somewhere, they will believe they can get away with just about any crime.

It won’t end with undocumented persons. Green card holders and citizens with names like Jimenez and Garcia will have a target on their backs as well. There are a depressing number of people in this country that assume that anyone with brown skin and a Latino surname must be in the country without papers. Some thugs will commit crimes of opportunity: Latinos might make good targets because they are less likely to go to the cops. It would be foxes picking off hens for whom seeking protection is not an option.

But others… others see that brown skin and are looking for a reason to “Make America Great Again” by beating the crap out of the “illegals” they irrationally blame for many of the perceived problems the country faces. Believing that their victims are not going to go to the cops makes their “job” all the easier.

Vigilanteism is a nasty, nasty business, sir.

You fail to grasp all of this. But then again, you’ve never been a target, have you? Bigots and white supremacists might look at your white skin and see, rationally or not, a potential ally. Simple thugs would know that attacking a powerful white man would let them in for a world of trouble. In any case, you’re going to be safe from predation.

It’s all the other people that need safeguarding. Unlike you, the sheriff of Travis county has enough brains to recognize that.

And, unlike you, she cares.

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And that, children, is why I went to law school.

It started with a road, and a neighborhood.

I’ve been interested in historic preservation for most of my adult life. It’s a passion, really, arising out of my experience growing up in an area that was in the process of trashing its natural beauty and where “historic preservation? What’s that?” seemed to be a prevailing attitude. (The Soreno, one of St. Pete’s historic hotels, was blown up (after the City Council gave its blessing for the  demolition) at the end of Lethal Weapon 4.)  Even historic neighborhoods which were saved were often a truncated version of larger areas. (Roser Park — which haunts my dreams, literally — comes to mind.)

People are tied to the land. That’s why you see “takings” cases such as Kelo v. City of New London which involve people fighting to keep the homes they grew up in. It’s not just because municipalities often lowball residents when buying out their houses. It’s because “home” can mean something more than where you put your head.

Neighborhoods carry on our history and our heritage. Gentrification hurts because people are pushed out, but also because the emotional history of a neighborhood — what makes a place home — can be destroyed.

To get back to the neighborhood in question.

Sweet Auburn was a prosperous African-American neighborhood in Atlanta during the Jim Crow era. While Donald Trump likes to think of all African-Americans as living in inner-city hells,* that’s not true now and it wasn’t true of Sweet Auburn. Successful African-American businesses lined its commercial streets, and in 1956 Fortune magazine called it the richest Negro street in the world.”

That’s not to mention its importance in the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King was born in Sweet Auburn, and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both he and his father were pastors, was in the district.

By the 1980s, the area had fallen into disrepair. This is where the road comes in.

The state of Georgia, in its infinite wisdom, decided to run a highway right through Sweet Auburn, bisecting it.  Mind you, at this point the neighborhood had already been designated a National Historic Landmark. And the government ran a damn highway through it.  They didn’t invest in it. They didn’t try to rescue it from disrepair. They  — and I include not only the state of Georgia but the city of Atlanta — seemed to shrug and say “oh, well.”

Bisecting a neighborhood hurts. It breaks up what would otherwise have been a coherent whole, not to mention the structures that were destroyed for that ribbon of commuter concrete. It destroys “home.”  Sweet Auburn survived, and has experienced something of a revival, but in 1992 was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”

All of this took place in a city that at that time was trying to figure out how to save the Margaret Mitchell house, a building that was falling apart, which Mitchell herself called “a dump” while she lived there. Now, of course, it has been renovated into tourist attraction. (Sweet Auburn aside, that turns my stomach. I really hate Gone With the Wind, which I credit with helping maintain the “noble Southerner versus the rapacious Yankee” idea, not to mention the “servile slaves good, freed blacks bad” fiction. It’s not as bad a Birth of a Nation, but it certainly does nothing to help race relations in this country. I think of that damn movie every time I see an idiot waving a Confederate battle flag and going on about “heritage.”)

I am not African-American, but that doesn’t matter. Like all Americans, I have  stake in saving Sweet Auburn the same as I have a stake in saving Native-American historic sites, the same as I have in saving Miami’s Art Deco South Beach, the same as I have in saving California’s missions. Our historic places are who we all are as a nation. If we are to understand each other, we have to understand where we come from. Besides, who am I to say that Sweet Auburn is less worthy of saving than my beloved Roser Park?

And so, to law school. I tried to get into Duke’s joint J.D./History Ph.D. program, but tanked my GREs. (I got into the law school, but not the history program.) So I went to Stanford.

Stanford didn’t have anything that really mapped to historic preservation. Instead, I became interested in the next best thing: environmental law. I developed my nascent interest in land use, an area which overlaps historic preservation. I learned about environmental justice. (I also learned water law, which I think every Californian should know. It might save municipalities a lot of trouble when they try to enforce water restrictions.) I’m not sure Stanford was the best fit for my interests, and if I had gone somewhere else I might still be practicing, but then again, maybe not. (The family  and personal issues that were the primary  reasons for me staying home would have still been present.) I nonetheless got a lot out of going there, and have nothing but deep and abiding affection for both for the place and the people. (Furthermore, being in Silicon Valley made it possible for the Rocket Scientist to find his work. Lawyers are thick upon the ground, but he is an expert in a small and highly technical field, which he would not be doing if we had landed somewhere else.)

This area which has its own preservation woes. Houses on hillsides by major architects are dismantled by captains of industry so they can build their own palatial wonders (see Ellison, Larry, and Morgan, Julia). There are victories: a small house (“Immigrant House”) which had been removed to make way for an apartment complex downtown was moved and installed in a newly opened park near me, along with the last windmill to have operated in the city. While buildings and other artifacts really should be seen in their original context, this is certainly the next best thing.

In the end, what happened to Sweet Auburn steered me on a course I might have not taken otherwise, and I’m glad of it.

*After he made that comment, my friend Jane posted a picture on Facebook of her brick Tudor hellhole, complete with manicured lawn. Would that I could live in such desolation.



Posted in My life and times, Who I am | Leave a comment

“What do you call that hairstyle?” “Arthur.”

February: not a fan. I’m ambivalent about Valentine’s Day, and since my kids are grown and we don’t have ski week to go on outings, President’s Day holds only mild promise. The weather has been miserable for the most part: today was spectacular, but another storm hits in two days.  It’s been years since the last time I can remember such a heavy rainy season.

February does have some excitement, though: the Oscars are February 26. The Academy nominated a good crop of movies this year several of which I have actually seen. Personally, I want Lin-Manuel Miranda to win Best Song for “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, so that he can become the youngest EGOT winner.*

And TCM holds its “31 Days of Oscar” festival. I get most of the movies on my DVR from either this or the HBO/CineMax/Showtime free promotions around Thanksgiving. Because of  “31 Days of Oscar,” I have the complete Lord of the Rings Trilogy, with no commercial interruptions, My Fair Lady, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and from this year, most appropriately, Gaslight… These are the keepers, as opposed to Fame, say, or Dreamgirls, which I’ll watch once and then erase.

And tonight’s movie, A Hard Day’s Night, will go on the “keeper” list. It’s funnier than I remembered; more accurately, because I’m actually an adult now and not an angst ridden teenager, I can appreciate its silliness. And with each passing year I become more deeply enamored of the title song.

It can take as much artistry to put together such a slight confection as this movie as it does to create a Merchant/Ivory period piece. You may not feel as erudite after watching it, but you’ll feel a whole lot less pretentious.

*Actually, he would be a PEGOT, since he also has a Pulitzer (following in the footsteps of Richard Rogers and Marvin Hamlisch). Or even better, he would be a McPEGOT, since he also won a McCarthur Genius grant.

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The story that just. will. NOT. die.

Standard disclaimer: See sidebar. These are my views, not those of my former employer, for whom I am in no way authorized to speak. I am writing from my experience working for an elections division, a worker bee who got to see up close and personal how elections happen, and who processed a lot of provisional ballots.

I thought that since he had won the White House, Donald Trump would leave this whole “voter fraud” business alone. Clearly, I was wrong. In refusing to let sleeping conspiracies lie, Trump shows himself to have even less judgment than George W. Bush, who, once he had the Supreme Court hand him the Presidency, let the matter slide, calling out for genuine unity (not this shut the hell up and go away crap).

New wrinkles are being proposed all the time. (The latest I heard was that busloads of people were hauled into New Hampshire from Massachusetts, thus making Trump’s victory there narrower than it should have been and also depriving poor, poor Kelly Ayotte of her Senate seat.) And, of course, there are all the allegations that undocumented immigrants illegally voted in California.

That last is easy to rebut: no one living more or less underground is going to put their name on a piece of paper for the government when they don’t have to. Police say that sometimes undocumented immigrants are afraid to report being victims of crimes, for fear of being reported to ICE. They sure as hell are not going to register to vote.

Which leaves two areas of investigation: registration and actual voting. No evidence exists of fraud for either one.

To take registration first: if we discount the absurd narrative that millions of undocumented immigrants registered and voted, the pool of people that could have registered illegally would be under-eighteen year olds, and people convicted of  a felony, (and in California) who are in prison or on probation. (Felons don’t regain the right vote ever in several Deep South red states, but Trump et. al. have never claimed voter fraud in those states.) People on probation are not a big enough pool to sway a statewide election, and those in prison won’t have the opportunity. As far as the youngsters go, it’s hard enough to get them to register and vote when they do hit eighteen. Only a handful are going to try before them, and they get caught, and their registration is put on hold until their eighteenth birthday. (People do register in multiple counties, sometimes (like Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner) but, as  understand the law (I might be wrong), merely being  registered in more than one place is not illegal as long as you do not vote in more than one place. People have been prosecuted for the latter.) I suppose that there might be some strange situation whereby masses of people could illegally register, but I fail to see how. Certainly I have not seen anyone show any evidence at all that this is the case.

Which leaves the stupid “people voting more than once” or “people voting in another state” scenarios, which seem to be the theories those idiots (or liars, take your pick) in the White House favor. And, based on my personal experience, I feel more than comfortable stating that these theories are utterly ridiculous.

I cannot believe that I feel compelled to go through this explanation again. 

People who are not on the voter rolls, for whatever reason, will not be allowed to cast a regular ballot. Period. They will have to cast a provisional ballot. Those provisional ballots are checked against ballots already cast, both those from other precincts and those vote-by-mail ballots that have been sent in. The signature is checked against the signature on file for the voter. Those provisional ballots are checked to see if the voter is registered, has moved out of the county (or state), if the voter is on probation, or in one case last year, dead.*

People voting from out of county — e.g., the Massachusetts scenario? Can’t happen. The ballots are invalidated.

People voting ten times? Can’t happen. The extra ballots are invalidated.

Somebody voting for someone else? Not unless they forge that person’s signature. If the signatures don’t match, the ballot is invalidated.

Non-citizens (which would include green-card holders) voting even though they’re not registered? Can’t happen. Ballots cast by people who are not registered are invalidated.

True, I only have first-hand experience of California elections. But given that Trump and his minions have focused most of their weird ire on my state**, I feel comfortable stating that there was very, very little or no voter fraud in California. I strongly suspect that other states have similar regimens in place to prevent fraud. We take our jobs as defenders of democracy (okay, so I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek) very seriously.

I had discussions after the California primary with the occasional member of the lunatic fringe on the left (usually Bernie Bros) who insisted that the provisionals were simply thrown out. (No, no, no, no, and once again no. Valid provisionals are counted the same as other ballots.) This just seems odd now, to have to repeatedly hear about fraud that I know for a fact would not have happened.

I don’t just get frustrated and angry about these voter fraud conspiracy theories. I worry about the damage it will do to our democracy; if people do not trust in the election process, how can they believe their vote counts? Between apathy and cynicism and the effect of Citizen’s United, our system is already screwed six ways to Sunday, and it seems that voter participation rates keep dropping all the time. Trump and his henchmen (and woman — I’m looking at you, Kellyanne Conway) and their ridiculous and dangerous lust for vindication can make things even worse.

Trump  won the White House. I wish he would just let this go.

*As I recall, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity; a man was removed from the voter rolls accidentally even though it was his father who had died.

**More evidence of bizarreness: Trump’s repeated claim that all those illegal votes had been cast for Hillary. The man’s not stupid; does he think his followers are?

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Note to self, as I sit in the empty classroom:

Always, but ALWAYS, check your email before you venture out in chilly 55 degree* moderate rain (heavy for California) on a highway that is nothing but red the whole way, taking 45 minutes, triple your daytime commute and ten minutes longer than your usual evening commute.  Then you would have seen the professor’s notice that she and fifteen of your classmates (out of forty) were down with a nasty virus. With my luck, I’ll get it and be forced to miss NEXT week’s class, when we are supposed to do an important** in-class assignment that we were going to do this week before everyone got sick.

*Stop snickering, all you New Yorkers, Bostonians and Michiganders. You know who you are. Yes, I’m a wimp. What can I say, I grew up i n Florida.</>

**I keep telling myself that this is a class I am taking for my own edification and that it doesn’t matter what grade I get, but I can no more ignore my grades than I can hold back the tides.

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Far too many things are going on in the country right now. The media is stretched thin, I am sure. That said, I was disappointed that they spent as much time as they did (too much, really) on the National Prayer Breakfast.

I’m not the media, though.  And our new President’s behavior at his event sickens me. I may struggle with faith, and God, and the afterlife, but I firmly  believe that there is sin. I do not presume to state if someone else’s actions rise to the level of sins (I have enough trouble working on my own), but in Donald Trump’s case I am tempted to make an exception.

The National Prayer Breakfast occurs every year, attended by, in addition to the President, 3,500 guests from around the world. Barack Obama quoted Scripture. Donald Trump boasted. To resort to an apt, if massively clichéd saying, if you look up “solipsism” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Trump.

Donald Trump cheapened an event which called for at least the appearance of reverence, for at least the simulacrum of respect. Instead of reverence, Trump joked about how we should pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger because… his ratings were so low on the New Celebrity Apprentice. Instead of respect, Trump engaged in open political pandering, by announcing he was going to eviscerate the Johnson rule, a rule that prevents churches and other nonprofits from endorsing specific candidates for public office. It is as though he could act no other way than he has since he won the presidency — since he began campaigning for the job, really.

It seems he doesn’t understand how to act properly. Have you noticed how since he won last November all his speeches sound so much like what he said at his campaign rallies? Even his inauguration speech, with its darkness and carnage, wasn’t designed to unify the country as much as to scare the bejesus out it.

In the grand scheme of things, what Trump did and said at the National Prayer Breakfast is unimportant. So much else has occurred, so many awful, scary things, that a man standing up and bragging when he should have been invoking the Lord and calling us to look to the better angels of our nature really isn’t all that big a deal.

Except there is only one Savior in Trump-land, and that is Donald J. Trump. Self-idolatry is idolatry nonetheless; a sin, and to the extent we as individuals or a nation celebrate this man — or even normalize his behavior — we become complicit in his sin.

God — whatever Gods or Goddesses there are — help us all.

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Today’s efforts in defense of Democracy.

Calls to oppose Scott Pruitt as EPA head and Betsy DeVos at Education:

Multiple attempts to call Senator Dianne Feinstein’s offices, both in California and D.C. The D.C. number just gave a busy signal, the California office number a “We are sorry, but we can’t answer your call right now due to a high call volume.”

Multiple attempts to call Senator Kamala Harris’s offices, both in San Francisco and D.C. The D.C. number rang a few times and then kicked me over to voicemail, where I left a message. The San Francisco number rang a few times, and then gave me “this mailbox is full and can take no more messages.”

Later today I’ll send emails, if I can’t get through on the phone.

And yes, I know I really should say “oppose every Cabinet pick,” but I am trying to sound a little more focused. I know we’re not going to be able to block every nominee, and these are the two I am most concerned about (other than maybe Rex Tillerson at State).

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