COVID-19 Slaughter, CDC Tragedy, and One U.S. Authority without Blood on His Hands

JANUARY 10, 2021 (counterpunch.org)

BY BRUCE E. LEVINE

Image by: Felipe Esquivel Reed (CC BY 2.0)

It is easy for progressives to blame the staggering calamity of U.S. COVID-19 deaths solely on Trump. Yes, Donald Trump is a self-serving liar, and his vice president, Mike Pence, as chair of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force and Trump henchman, has blocked life-saving guidance from scientific authorities. There is smoking-gun evidence (some of which I will discuss) that convicts Trump and Pence, but if progressives blame only the Trump administration and not politically-intimidated scientific authorities, they will be guilty of failing to prevent another disastrous response to the next pandemic.

While anti-authoritarian progressives should have expected nothing less from Trump and Pence, cavalier clowns from the theocratic/pre-Enlightenment wing of the corporatocracy, they should have expected more from scientists at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), whose compromising of science was chronicled by ProPublica (“Inside the Fall of the CDC”) and noted by the Center for Infectious Disease and Research Policy (CIDRAP). Both the ProPublica and the CIDRAP reports will be discussed here.

For most of 2020, confused, anxious, and terrified Americans simply have had no idea as to which authority to trust, and such confusion, anxiety, and terror obliterated critical thinking. Now, with the arrival of vaccines—hopefully as effective as claimed—along with other good news that I will report, perhaps some Americans are re-energized to think critically. For those who have regained their strength, the goal of this article is to provide information for critical thinking about the CDC fiasco and the increasingly failed state called the United States—failed if your criteria includes how a society treats its elder citizens (according to the December 20, 2020 AARP Bulletin, the COVID-19 fatality rate in U.S. nursing home/long-term care facilities is 16% compared to the Battle of the Bulge fatality rate of 4%).

First, that piece of good news. Unlike CDC director Robert Redfield (a Trump appointee), CIDRAP director Michael Osterholm, in spite of heavy political pressure, has valiantly NOT made scientific proclamations without scientific evidence; and last November, Osterholm was named to Biden’s 13-member COVID-19 Advisory Board.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been widespread confusion in the general public concerning scientific truths about stopping its spread. Genuine scientists recognized what was truly known and not known, and those with courage, such as Osterholm, attempted to make this clear. However, because scientific proclamations have had such huge economic implications—which translated into huge political implications—scientific authorities experienced great pressure, and the CDC caved to that pressure. Before discussing that CDC capitulation, some facts:

(1) The United States has, by far, more COVID-19 fatalities than any other nation. As of December 29, 2020, the United States had approximately 335,000 deaths; Brazil was second at 191,000; New Zealand had 25 deaths. On one day alone, December 29, there were 3,725 U.S. COVID-19 deaths, at that time, the highest U.S. daily total. As of December 16, 2020, while there were eight other nations with higher fatality rates than the United States, the U.S. fatality rate of 921 deaths per million was 250% greater than Canada’s rate of 364 deaths per million. New Zealand had a fatality rate of 5 deaths per million. While the Trump slogan may have been “Make America Great Again,” U.S. government policy has resulted in “Made Americans Dead.”

(2) Trump’s only agenda with regard to COVID-19 has been to keep it from derailing the economy, especially the stock market, which he believed would derail his re-election. In November 2020, the Atlantic (“All the President’s Lies About the Coronavirus”) documented over 50 Trump lies in key areas, including the nature of the outbreak, its seriousness, testing, and treatment.

(3) The CDC, pressured by the Trump administration, compromised its scientific mission, resulting in lost respect and credibility for the CDC from scientists inside the CDC and from scientists outside of the CDC.

In ProPublica’s lengthy exposé, “Inside the Fall of the CDC” (October 15, 2020), journalists James Bandler, Patricia Callahan, Sebastian Rotella and Kirsten Berg conclude: “When the next history of the CDC is written, 2020 will emerge as perhaps the darkest chapter in its 74 years, rivaled only by its involvement in the infamous Tuskegee experiment. . .”

The ProPublica story begins with an ugly example of the nature of the Trump administration’s assault on the CDC. Propublica recounts that in mid-May 2020: “the CDC had published its investigation of an outbreak at an Arkansas church that had resulted in four deaths. The agency’s scientific journal recently had detailed a superspreader event in which 52 of the 61 singers at a 2½-hour choir practice developed COVID-19. Two died.”

Jay Butler, the CDC Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases who was directing the CDC’s COVID-19 response, was tasked with crafting CDC guidance for religious organizations’ activities. Butler, Propublica points out, is “an infectious disease specialist with more than three decades of experience . . . . one of the CDC’s elite disease detectives, he’d helped the FBI investigate the anthrax attacks, and he’d led the distribution of vaccines during the H1N1 flu pandemic when demand far outstripped supply.”

Just prior to Memorial Day, Trump publicly insisted that churches reopen and accused Democratic governors of disrespecting houses of worship, which he proclaimed should be deemed as “essential services.” Trump announced that the CDC would “very soon” release safety guidelines for places of worship. Butler’s team rushed to finalize this guidance—recommendations that earlier in April, Trump’s aides had rejected. Butler’s team reviewed “a raft of last-minute edits from the White House,” Propublica reports, and the team rejected those White House edits that conflicted with CDC research, including rejecting a White House suggestion to delete a line in Butler’s team’s guidance that urged congregations to consider suspending or at least decreasing the use of choirs.

After these rejections by Butler’s team of the White House “suggestions,” Mike Pence, chair of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, made the White House position clear. Propublica recounts: “The next day, a furious call came from the office of the vice president: The White House suggestions were not optional. The CDC’s failure to use them was insubordinate, according to emails at the time.” In sum, 52 of the 61 singers at a 2½-hour choir practice developed COVID-19 with two dying, but the self-identified evangelical Mike Pence declared it to be insubordination should the CDC retain its guidance to consider suspending or at least decreasing the use of choirs.

Sadly, almost immediately, a Butler deputy replaced their team’s guidance with the White House version, and the choir dangers went unmentioned. On the Sunday morning of the Memorial Day weekend, Propublica reports, “Butler, a churchgoer himself, poured his anguish and anger into an email to a few colleagues,” his email reading: “I am very troubled on this Sunday morning that there will be people who will get sick and perhaps die because of what we were forced to do.”

To give you the flavor of the detailed Propublica exposé on the CDC, below are a few quotes from it:

• “A vaunted agency that was once the global gold standard of public health has, with breathtaking speed, become a target of anger, scorn and even pity.”

• “Agency insiders lost faith that CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield, a Trump appointee who’d been at the agency only two years, would, or could, hold the line on science.”

• “People interviewed for this story asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation against themselves or their agency.”

• “Longtime CDC employees confess that they have lost trust in what their own agency tells the public.”

Not reported in the Propublica exposé is another CDC tragedy, an extremely important CDC flip flop.

On March 18, 2020, the CDC put out the video “Answering 20 Questions about COVID-19,” in which Jay Butler is asked about CDC recommendations regarding cloth masks. He responds (at the 52:12 mark): “CDC does not recommend use of masks in the general community, and that’s not a new recommendation. That’s been a standing recommendation for some time, primarily because there’s not a lot of evidence that there is benefit. We are also concerned about the exposure of hands to the face. . . . Just [an] anecdotal observation—not true scientific data—I’ve watched people in public who are wearing the mask and how often they put their hand to their face to adjust the mask . . . . It really makes me wonder if it actually might have a negative benefit on the risk of infection. . .”

In addition to the lack of evidence for cloth masks’ positive benefits and the possible negative effects of face-touching caused by mask use, there is another hugely important reason why public health officials did not want to recommend them. Specifically, they feared that mask recommendations would result in a false sense of security; in the words of a CIDRAP commentary published on April 1, 2020, “Masks-For-All for COVID-19 Not Based on Sound Data”: “Their use may result in those wearing the masks to relax other distancing efforts because they have a sense of protection.” This CIDRAP review of the scientific research is authored by Lisa Brosseau and Margaret Sietsema (their mini-bios state: “Dr. Brosseau is a national expert on respiratory protection and infectious diseases and professor, retired, University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Sietsema is also an expert on respiratory protection and an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago”).

On July 16, Brosseau and Sietsema added a statement to their review which began: “The authors and CIDRAP have received requests in recent weeks to remove this article from the CIDRAP website.” CIDRAP director Osterholm refused to be intimidated by these “requests,” and he instead provided Brosseau and Sietsema with an opportunity to respond to criticism; and they made it clear that they are not “anti-maskers,” and that they only were conveying what is known about mask protection. If you are interested in what scientists know and do not know about the protection provided by various types of masks—including N-95 respirators, surgical, and cloth ones—I strongly recommend that you read Brosseau and Sietsema’s careful review.

Prior to the CDC flip flop on cloth mask recommendations, the phrase repeatedly used by public health officials, not just those at CIDRAP, about why they did not recommend such mask use was “a false sense of security.” It was believed that if people were told that cloth masks were protective that—even if they were also told of the greater importance of social distancing (“physical distancing,” notes CIDRAP’s director Michael Osterholm, is the better term)—then many people would be lax about physical distancing.

This nightmare of public health authorities came true. One glaring example was that after the CDC told Americans not to travel on Thanksgiving, many Americans simply blew that recommendation off, and there were airport scenes throughout the nation with everybody masked up awaiting boarding—inches from one another—and most likely majorly spreading the virus.

Between March 18, when Jay Butler told the American people that the CDC does not recommend the use of masks “primarily because there’s not a lot of evidence that there is benefit,” and early April, when the CDC reversed this recommendation, there was no new mask research to justify such a reversal, a fact documented by CIDRAP director Michael Osterholm (more later on this).

To say that Michael Osterholm’s scientific credentials in the areas of infectious diseases and epidemiology are impressive is an understatement (see bio), and the Des Moines Register gives us some insight into the fiber of this Iowa native: “He has described his father as a bullying alcoholic who left the family after Osterholm stood up to him during his senior year of high school.”

Osterholm has a history of accepting unpopularity if that was the cost of saving lives. In 1984, following Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler’s announcement that we would have an HIV vaccine within three years, Osterholm responded to the media, “Until we have a ‘beam me up Scotty machine,’ or some kind of new breakthrough technology, I didn’t understand how this vaccine would work.” Osterholm recalls, “My critical concern was that we couldn’t let our guard down; we had to maintain all the efforts we were promoting to support people not to become infected through their personal choices of behavior.” Soon after Osterholm’s 1984 buzzkilling remarks, he spoke at a meeting in which a group of gay businessmen were in attendance, and he recounts,“When I was asked a question about the prospects for a vaccine, some of them got up and left in a very public display of their disagreement with my answer. Today I sit here in 2020, some 36 years later, and we’re not close to having an HIV vaccine.I take no comfort in having been right about that.”

On June 2, 2020, in Special Episode: Masks and Science, in an interview with Chris Dall (click here for transcript), Osterholm attempts to clear up the mask confusion. Osterholm recounts that on April 3, 2020, the CDC reversed its earlier mask recommendation, with the CDC proclaiming: “In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g. grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” This “new evidence,” Osterholm explains, was not at all evidence of mask effectiveness but studies demonstrating presymptomatic or asymptomatic transmission. Osterholm explains the following about the CDC flip flop: “The recommendation was published without a single scientific paper or other information provided to support that cloth masks actually provide any respiratory protection. There were seven reports or papers listed as ‘Recent Studies’ that detailed the risk of presymptomatic or asymptomatic transmission. There was nothing about how well such masks protect against virus transmission, particularly from aerosol-related transmission.”

Osterholm could not hide his disappointment and anguish: “Never before in my 45 year career have I seen such a far-reaching public recommendation issued by any governmental agency without a single source of data or information to support it. This is an extremely worrisome precedent of implementing policies not based on science-based data. . . . If these cloth masks do little to reduce virus transmission due in large part to their lack of protection against aerosol inhalation or exhalation, do we not have an obligation to tell the public of this potential limitation? How many cases of COVID-19 will occur when people using cloth masks and not understanding the limitations of their effectiveness participate in activities with others where virus transmission does occur?”

He continued, “I believe this cloth mask recommendation situation represented the other low point in CDC’s response to COVID-19 with the other being the failed testing situation [a major CDC debacle discussed in depth in the Propublica article]. I have talked to close friends and colleagues who work at CDC and who were involved on the periphery with this issue. They universally disagreed with the publication of this recommendation based on the lack of information supporting that cloth masks actually reduced the risk of virus transmission to or from someone wearing a cloth mask.”

Directing listeners to the CDC website, Osterholm noted, “You’ll not find one piece of information supporting that cloth masks are effective in reducing respiratory virus transmission. Ironically, what you will find is that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH], an institute that is part of CDC, states on the CDC site the following; ‘A surgical mask does NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection’. . . . And remember that NIOSH is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on respiratory protection. Frankly, I believe that this issue of CDC recommending the use of cloth masks without any substantial scientific evidence that they provide such protection, and in conflict with their own expertise in NIOSH, has helped create the immense confusion that exists around this issue. In short, I believe that CDC has failed the public by creating this confusion.”

In the 2020 climate of tribal attacks on critically-thinking truth tellers, in order for CIDRAP to survive and continue to disseminate only scientific truths, Osterholm needed that same kind of strength required to stand up to a bullying alcoholic father. He reports, “In all my years in public health, I’ve never experienced this blowback, even with the influenza vaccine or HIV vaccine related issues. We’ve actually had people who’ve contacted funders of CIDRAP, demanding that they defund us, because of my position on cloth masking.” While CIDRAP, unlike the CDC, is not a U.S. governmental institution that has to answer to Trump, its survival within the auspices of the University of Minnesota depends on the funding of various foundations.

Osterholm, Brosseau, and Sietsema make clear that they are not “anti-maskers.” Osterholm repeats that “masks may provide some benefit in reducing the risk of virus transmission.” However, the key word is may, and the critical point is that if in fact there proves to be some mask benefit, “at best it can only be anticipated to be limited.” He regularly notes the following scientific truth: “Distancing remains the most important risk reduction action. . . . I understand why many would argue that some benefit is better than none, but I believe that we must approach this assumption with caution. The messaging that dominates our COVID-19 discussions right now makes it seem that if we are wearing cloth masks you’re not going to infect me and I’m not going to infect you. I worry that many people highly vulnerable to life-threatening COVID-19 will hear this message and make decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t have made about distancing because of an unproven sense of cloth mask security.”

Science and basic math dictated that the life-saving response to COVID-19 should consist in, as it was called in New Zealand, “going early and go hard.” In “Lessons from New Zealand’s COVID-19 Outbreak Response,” published by the prestigious medical journal the Lancet (October 13, 2020), there is no mention of masks; rather it concludes: “The lockdown implemented in New Zealand was remarkable for its stringency and its brevity. . . [relying on] early decisive reactions from health authorities, performant surveillance systems, and targeted testing strategies as much as stringency.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the New Zealand government took seriously scientific truths; and they implemented policies based on what science told them clearly mattered. Honesty with the pubic by New Zealand governmental and public health authorities provided them with credibility, resulting in New Zealanders’ trust that financial and social sacrifices early on caused by a stringent lockdown would reap great benefits later. Ardern, like Trump, was also up for re-election, but she focused solely on the lives of New Zealanders, who rewarded her for her policies that resulted in New Zealand suffering only 25 COVID-19 deaths. On October 17, 2020, the BBC headline read: “Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party Scores Landslide Win.”

New Zealand authorities, similar to scientists Osterholm, Brosseau, and Sietsema, are not anti-maskers—while studies with poor-to-no science have been used to promote masks, this same lack of science also exists in anti-mask studies, including the most loudly trumpeted one, commonly called DANMASK-19, conducted in Denmark during April and May 2020 (published in November 2020 as “Effectiveness of Adding a Mask Recommendation to Other Public Health Measures to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Danish Mask Wearers”). In DANMASK-19, 3030 participants were randomly assigned to the recommendation to wear masks, and 2994 were assigned to control; 4862 completed the study. Infection occurred in 42 participants recommended masks (1.8%) and 53 control participants (2.1%). This was trumpeted by anti-maskers to “prove” that masks have little value. However, as Noah Haber, a leading critic of this study pointed out, “This wasn’t a trial about mask-wearing; it was a trial about messages to wear masks . . . . Any protective effect those masks may have had was dampened by the fact that many of the participants didn’t actually use them: In the end, less than half the people in the intervention group reported having worn the masks as recommended.” (Haber and colleagues registered all their concerns about the study design in September 2020 before the study was published). Science does not proclaim that cloth masks do not work but rather that they may or may not work, and that to the extent that they do work, they may not provide much benefit. In contrast, the science is clear that physical distancing is effective.

Finally, before submitting this article to CounterPunch, I rechecked the CDC website to see if they finally found credible scientific evidence for mask effectiveness. Had an amazing research team actually conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) on a large number of subjects in which relevant variables were truly controlled so that the comparison of subject infection rates could provide at least a modicum of evidence concerning mask effectiveness? No, not even close to that.

Specifically, updated on November 20, 2020, the CDC posted Scientific Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2. In the section “Human Studies of Masking and SARS-CoV-2 Transmission,” the CDC did acknowledge: “Data regarding the ‘real-world’ effectiveness of community masking are limited to observational and epidemiological studies.” In other words, they had no RCT studies. Then the CDC described their first—which is likely what they consider their strongest—of five non-RCT studies: “An investigation of a high-exposure event, in which 2 symptomatically ill hair stylists interacted for an average of 15 minutes with each of 139 clients during an 8-day period, found that none of the 67 clients who subsequently consented to an interview and testing developed infection. The stylists and all clients universally wore masks in the salon as required by local ordinance and company policy at the time.”

This hair stylist report might be interesting to many in the public, but for scientists, this is closer to an anecdote than a scientific study; and for scientists, anecdotal evidence is not scientific evidence. Specifically, this is an observational, non-RCT report with two hair stylists in which more than half of their clients are omitted from the results. If you read the author’s report (“Absence of Apparent Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from Two Stylists After Exposure at a Hair Salon with a Universal Face Covering Policy), it states: “Overall, 67 (48.2%) clients volunteered to be tested, and 72 (51.8%) refused.” The authors themselves tell us that their study has “at least four limitations”: (1) only a subset of the clients were tested; (2) no information was collected regarding use of other personal protective measures; (3) clients who interacted with the stylists immediately before the stylists became symptomatic were not recruited for contact tracing; and (4) the mode of interaction between stylist and client might have limited the potential for exposure to the virus.

The CDC posting of this study as its top human-study evidence for mask effectiveness, for me, appeared so pathetic that I had a second reaction that was darkly hopeful. Perhaps some terrified CDC scientist—afraid of retaliation but wanting to signal that the CDC’s scientific evidence of cloth mask effectiveness falls somewhere between nada and bupkis—posted this study to both survive and signal the truth that they have nothing, and that everybody should focus on physical distancing. Maybe that CDC employee was doing what Sigmund Freud did in order to be allowed to exit Austria in 1938.

According to Freud’s biographer Ernest Jones (The Life and Works of Sigmund Freud), in order for him to be permitted to leave Austria, the Gestapo demanded that Freud, who was by then world famous, sign a document stating: “I have been treated by the German authorities and particularly by the Gestapo with all the respect and consideration due my scientific reputation, that I could live and work in full freedom, that I could continue to pursue my activities in every way I desired. . .” The clever Freud, gaging the Gestapo’s inability to distinguish between a true compliment and sly sarcasm, told them that he had no compunction about signing the document but asked if he could add this sentence to it: “I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone.”

I wonder if Jay Butler and his team at the CDC, forced by Trump and Pence to delete guidance that could have saved lives, now wish that they would have imitated Freud’s tactic by asking if they could add this sentence to their coerced guidance statement: “I can heartily recommend Donald Trump and Mike Pence to anyone.”

Bruce E. Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist often at odds with the mainstream of his profession, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His most recent book is Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian―Strategies, Tools, and Models (AK Press, September, 2018). His Web site is brucelevine.net

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BART board votes 6-3 to call for prosecution of officer in killing of Oscar Grant

A mural of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale BART station in Oakland on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A mural of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale BART station in Oakland on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Symbolic resolution follows Alameda DA decision to not charge Anthony Pirone

The BART Board of Directors passed a resolution Thursday urging Alameda County prosecutors to file a murder charge against the former law enforcement officer involved in the killing of Oscar Grant.

Anthony Pirone lost his job as a BART officer after Grant died, but the six board members who voted in support of the resolution also want him to be held criminally responsible for his actions.

“If I lost my child, whether it was to community violence or violence from anyone, but especially from a sworn officer, I would seek the ends of the Earth to find the truth and hold those folks accountable,” said Director Lateefah Simon, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution. “That’s all we’re asking.”

The resolution comes on the heels of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announcing Monday she would not charge Pirone with murder after reopening the case in recent months.

Grant was killed on New Year’s Day in 2009 when then-BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shot him on the platform of Oakland’s Fruitvale Station.

While Mehserle was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months in jail before being released on parole, Pirone emerged from the situation legally unscathed despite pinning Grant to the ground and directing a racial slur at him.

O’Malley reopened the case last October after an investigation commissioned by BART found Pirone used “overly aggressive and unreasonable actions” that “contributed substantially to the escalation of the hostile and volatile atmosphere.”

Announcing her decision Monday, she condemned Pirone’s actions but found that she could not charge him with murder because he was not the shooter and had no reason to believe his fellow officer was going to shoot Grant while he helped detain him.

“Everyone on the platform that night was shocked that Mehserle suddenly pulled out his gun and shot Oscar Grant in the back,” O’Malley said in a video statement on her decision.

O’Malley could not file misdemeanor charges against Pirone because the statute of limitations has expired, she said.

Passing 6-3, the resolution is a symbolic gesture with no authority over any criminal case. Directors Debora Allen, Liz Ames and John McPartland voted against the resolution.

The opponents agreed that Grant’s killing was a tragedy, but felt calling for charges against a law enforcement officer went too far and stepped outside the purview of the transit agency’s jurisdiction.

“I think we’ve crossed a line,” Ames said of the resolution.

McPartland noted the BART board “does not have the statutory or moral authority” to compel another government agency to take a certain course of action.

The resolution can be viewed here.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

The Putsch of January 6, 2021

BY JAMES D. ZIRIN | JANUARY 8, 2021 (billmoyers.com)

The rioters who assaulted the Capitol on January 6 were better organized than the police who were charged with protecting the imposing building, which Biden called the “citadel of liberty.”

These were not just a group of people who happened to be in Washington that day to protest Biden’s victory. There was the woman named Elizabeth from Knoxville, her eyes smarting from mace, who said she came as part of the “revolution.” There was Jake Angeli of Arizona, an actor and singer, both a QAnon and Trump supporter, carrying a bullhorn and an American flag, who, in 39-degree weather, appeared inside the building shirtless and tattooed, wearing a horned helmet and red, white and blue face paint. There was the other bearded rioter wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the chilling rubric, “Camp Auschwitz, Work Brings Freedom,” the nazi slogan that greeted arrivals at the death camp.  There was a fair share of white supremacists and racists. Someone erected a gallows with a noose in front of the Capitol Building. 

This was not a demonstration; it was a desecration of our sacred democracy, a violent insurrection, aided and abetted by Trump and certain of his enablers.  Five people died as a result of the assault. 

This was a well-planned enterprise. Who financed these people? Was it Trump’s “Stop the Steal” PAC? Who paid their travel expenses, their hotel expense, their sustenance? Who were the organizers? Who assembled the small group that would storm the building, scale its hallowed walls and invade its chambers where the laws that rule us are made? Who instructed the trespassers on how to do it, and where to go? Many carried or wore Trump or QAnon paraphernalia. “Trump 2020” banners  or MAGA hats, the uniforms of their seditious enterprise. Few of the male rioters were clean shaven. Was this planned also to make identification more difficult? 

There is more to this than Trump’s incendiary innuendo in front of the White House exhorting the mob: “You will never take our country with weakness.” There is more to it than Trump saying to the mob of criminals, “We love you, you’re very special.”

Or Donald Trump, Jr. warning Republican members of Congress who were deserting the ship, “We’re coming for you.” Or Rudy Giuliani demanding of the same crowd “trial by combat” to settle the election. 

True, Trump Jr., Giuliani, and Ivanka Trump, who had previously tweeted that the  mob were  “patriots,” denounced the violence. But all that was too little too late. It was moving a log after they had poured gasoline on the fire. 

Who put up the crusty Congressman from Texas, Louie Gohmert, to start the frivolous and almost unimaginable lawsuit against Mike Pence seeking to empower him to throw the election Trump’s way? Who crafted the wild Ted Cruz scenario to advocate a special commission to investigate an election where countless lawsuits, recounts and challenges had unearthed no evidence of the “massive fraud” Trump falsely claimed had vitiated the election? The enablers like Cruz and Josh Hawley, the pallid senator from Missouri who wants to be president, know it is not true. Joe Biden won in a fair election. The American people rejected Donald Trump. How long do they intend to perpetuate this falsehood?

And what of our security forces? Why was the National Guard so late to the party? The DC and Capitol police were no match for the rioters. One of their number posed for a selfie with the mob; another escorted an intruder down the steps of the Capitol; a third ran from them, not even ordering them to leave the building. And these are but a few egregious examples. Thugs bearing flagpoles, and undoubtedly concealed weapons, breached the security of the building without serious challenge. The officers involved from the top down who were derelict in their duty must be held fully accountable. 

Someone must investigate the riots and find out who was behind it, who organized and financed it and who plotted to launch this shameful attack on the institutions of our democracy—perhaps more fragile than anyone ever thought.

Is this the end? Are we to assume that the buffoons and domestic terrorists looking more like Visigoths than civilized human beings have had their fun and will now go home from their all-expense paid trip to Washington? Or will they be back? 

Something like this happened not too long ago, in 1923 in Munich. It was called the “Beer Hall Putsch,” an attempted coup d’état by Hitler and his followers, which was calculated to seize the power of the Bavarian state government (and thereby launch a larger “national revolution” against the democratically elected Weimar Republic). The attempted coup failed after four police officers and 16 nazis were killed. Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison for “high treason,” but was out with a pardon after less than a year. In jail, he wrote Mein Kampf. The next time round, Hitler sought election to the chancellorship. He lost, but became chancellor anyway, and the rest is history.

So what have we here? Another Beer Hall Putsch? To paraphrase Churchill, is this end of the beginning of the hooliganism and thuggery we saw in Washington, or are we in the twilight of our democracy — the beginning of the end?   

We have a rule of law in this country on which we pride ourselves. Serious crimes were committed here, and they merit vigorous investigation and prosecution. Title 18 United States Code §1752, among other things, makes criminal disorderly or disruptive conduct with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business in any building where a person entitled top Secret Service protection is visiting…when or so that such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions. The penalty is severe, up to 10 years imprisonment. There are other more draconian criminal statutes that may be applicable as well.

But so far, relatively few of the putschists have been arrested. The new Attorney General, the distinguished jurist Merrick Garland, has vast experience prosecuting domestic terrorism cases. When he was in the Justice Department years ago, he supervised the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

There must be full accountability for all those responsible for this day, like another in American history, “which will live in infamy.”

JAMES D. ZIRIN

James D. Zirin, a lawyer, is the author of the recently published book, “Plaintiff in Chief, -A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3500 Lawsuits.”

Screen Grabs: Two looks at Black legends in ‘MLK/FBI’ and ‘One Night in Miami…”

As we prepare for Black History Month, new releases look back at the complex heroes who powered the civil rights movement.

By DENNIS HARVEY (48hills.org)

-JANUARY 14, 2021Dr. Martin Luther King in Sam Pollard’s ‘MLK/FBI’. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release. 

The start of Black History Month may still be a couple weeks away, but needless to say there’s plenty of reason to get a little ahead of ourselves in that regard, as recent years have in many respects seen the clock turned back on US race relations half a century or more. The civil rights movement certainly did create sweeping changes in American society, but as with so many other social shifts that kicked into overdrive in the 1960s, it’s a mercy its proponents couldn’t foresee the degree of reactionary pushback the then-distant future would bring. Weren’t we supposed to be living in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Instead, post-millennium ‘Murrica keeps evolving towards something more like … The PurgeNetworkGet OutIdiocracy

In any case, two new films releasing this Friday cast an instructive look back at major figures and events of the civil rights struggle that, needless to say, have as much relevance as ever these days.

Actually arriving right on time (this being the long weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day) is MLK/FBI, which is available now On Demand. This fascinating documentary by Sam Pollard, whose Mr. Soul! was also recently covered in this column, delivers exactly what the title promises: A chronicle of how our government’s primary domestic law enforcement agency monitored the activities of the era’s most prominent racial justice activist for years before his 1968 assassination. 

The extent to which Baptist minister King provided any “threat” to national security that would justify such close FBI scrutiny—eventually extending to outright harassment in various forms—is highly debatable, of course. But the film makes clear how the agency’s actions made internal sense within the general cultural context of the time, when (at least initially) far more Americans “trusted” J. Edgar Hoover than supposed rabble-rouser King. And above all, those actions were driven by the reactionary conservatism, egomania, and malice of Hoover himself, who was in complete charge of a vast, secretive intelligence organization for an unprecedented 48 years. That was long enough for our society to undergo enormous changes … nearly all of which the FBI chief resisted, utilizing every dirty trick in the book. 

Entirely composed of archival visuals (there’s some latterday audio interviews and commentary), MLK/FBI uses recently declassified documents to reveal the extent of Hoover’s underhanded hostility towards “racial agitators” in general, and King in particular. The Fed honcho probably really did believe civil rights advocates wanted “civil war between races”—though one might argue the FBI’s skullduggery (here and later with the Black Panthers, et al.) only exacerbate tensions. 

King had already been under “observation” by the agency for some time when the 1963 March on Washington and his “I Have a Dream” speech “turned a Southern movement into a national and international” cause celebre. An FBI memo promptly dubbed him “the most dangerous Negro in America.” 

Hoover had long branded himself and his agency as crusaders against “crime and Communism;” now he used suspicions of the latter to taint MLK’s stature. King did have some key allies (notably progressive white lawyer Stanley Levison) with past ties to the Communist Party. But after being advised to do so (including from President Kennedy), he distanced himself from them. And as he’s duly seen asking a TV interviewer here, what could testify more to Black Americans’ patriotism than the “amazing” fact that so few of them had embraced Communism, despite their treatment by our democracy?

Dr. Martin Luther King in Sam Pollard’s ‘MLK/FBI’. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

King is seen exhibiting the patience of Job over and over again, refusing to rise to the bait of loaded questions, his non-violent resistance even blamed for “inciting” white racist violence. His poise must have infuriated Hoover no end. Surely J. Edgar was apoplectic when this foe won the global approbation that came with his Nobel Peace Prize. Likewise when MLK came out against the Vietnam War—something Lyndon B. Johnson took as a personal betrayal, and which many in the Black community (who felt King should stick solely to civil rights issues) found problematic as well. 

When the “commie” thing didn’t pan out, Hoover pushed agents to find dirt in King’s private life, bugging nearly every place he might go. That included hotel rooms where he purportedly cheated on wife Coretta. It is amusing to see Hoover lying on camera, claiming the FBI almost never used wiretapping, and only in cases of treason or espionage … just as he was frantically trying to catch MLK in the private act of infidelity in order to publicly assassinate his character. 

The more literal kind of assassination on 4/4/68 curtailed that operation; a coda here notes that the voluminous tapes recorded won’t be declassified until 2027, at the earliest. Will they tarnish King’s legacy? Almost certainly not to the extent that his nemesis hoped—though even the whitewash of Clint Eastwood’s 2011 reclamation job J. Edgar couldn’t put the shine back on the FBI’s long-since-fallen fallen star, whose own peccadilloes are now painfully well-known.

Based on the book The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From ‘Solo’ to Memphis by David J. Garrow, MLK/FBI illuminates depths of surveillance and intimidation normally unseen outside exactly the kind of Eastern Bloc totalitarian states Hoover thought he was protecting us from. (His agency even penned “anonymous” blackmailing letters in attempt to push King towards suicide.) Pollard manages the suspense of a spy thriller, using old movie/TV clips to place these events in the cultural framework of Federal agents’ romanticized popular images, as well as African Americans’ scurrilous ones. (It is not ignored here that Hoover’s plan to expose King as a philanderer would play on white society’s deep-rooted terror of “black sexuality.”) It’s a completely absorbing, stranger-than-fiction tale—though of course, our political realities have lately been occupying that zone 24/7.

Of considerably overlapping interest is One Night in Miami …, esteemed actor Regina King’s first directorial following several years’ behind-the-camera TV work. Based on the 2013 stage play by Kemp Powers (also co-director/writer on the current Pixar ‘toon Soul), it’s a fictive depiction of the 1964 evening in which Malcolm X, soul singer Sam Cooke, star NFL fullback Jim Brown, and the boxer then named Cassius Clay gathered in a hotel room to celebrate the latter’s win over heavyweight champ Sonny Liston. 

That unexpected triumph puts the already-acquainted quartet in a party mood. But Malcolm (Kingsley Ben-Adir) is not about to condone the pursuit of alcohol or pussy—despite his already being somewhat at odds with Nation of Islam leadership. In fact, he’s called the others here for another reason he’s slow to spell out, one that asks them to use their leadership status for common good, rather than basking in the glow of individual achievements.

It’s a somewhat argumentative summit of titans, with X acting as an often humorless scold towards Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Brown (Aldis Hodge), and even recent Muslim convert Clay (Eli Goree), who just days later would announce he’d rejected his “slave name” in favor of Muhammad Ali. 

Snapping “You bourgeoise negroes are too happy with your scraps,” he berates them for insufficiently using their fame to lift up all African-Americans. This isn’t necessarily what three deservedly healthy egos want to hear, or even deserve to. They push back, ennumerating their good deeds and pointing out Malcolm’s own imperfections. Still, at this white-hot key moment in the civil rights struggle, each comes away with a renewed sense of socially-conscious purpose. 

Released in inconveniently close proximity to another African American historical imagining derived from the stage, Ma Rainey’s Black BottomOne Night can’t help looking less successful as an adaptation to film. The text is more didactic, the action (even) more theatrical. Though King manages to keep the protagonists out of that hotel room for half an hour, with some additional flashbacks and other digressions later on, we’re always aware this is a dialogue-driven piece that might’ve felt more at home in a proscenium. 

Yet despite its somewhat slow, artificial, and monotonous progress, the construct still has electricity, and the performances are strong—even if the actors may not always feel like ringers for still very-well-remembered public figures. (Among which only Brown is still alive, at age 84.) One Night in Miami …, which is available as of today via Amazon Prime Video, has the inevitable effect of an alternative Mount Rushmore come to life, trying to sustain mile-high legends while simultaneously reducing them to everyday scale. A certain amount of disbelief must be suspended just to absorb the lessons they’re made to learn and teach in the narrow dramatic window provided. Nonetheless, King, Powers & co. do succeed in making history (or something at least close to it) feel more immediate for two hours, as their protagonists weigh how to best hasten political change with personal commitment.

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MARGO ST. JAMES, THE SEX WORKERS’ ‘JOAN OF ARC,’ DIES AT 83

Sam Whiting Jan. 14, 2021  (SFChronicle.com)

Margo St. James was a proud advocate for the rights of sex workers. A one-time prostitute herself, St. James died on Jan. 13. She’s shown here on Sept. 10, 1980.
1of4Margo St. James was a proud advocate for the rights of sex workers. A one-time prostitute herself, St. James died on Jan. 13. She’s shown here on Sept. 10, 1980.Photo: John O’Hara / The Chronicle 1980
Margo St. James created COYOTE, a group focused on fighting for the rights of sex workers.
3of4Margo St. James created COYOTE, a group focused on fighting for the rights of sex workers.Photo: John O’Hara / The Chronicle 1996

Margo St. James, proud prostitute, union organizer for her trade, founder of the famed Hookers Ball to honor them and a flamboyant San Francisco character from back in the day when there were a lot more of them, has died at 83.

Best known for the creation of COYOTE, which stood for Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, to fight for the rights of sex workers, St. James was also a social activist who helped start St. James Infirmary, an occupational health and safety clinic for sex workers, in the Tenderloin. Her death on Monday was later announced on the St. James website, and confirmed for The Chronicle by her sister, Claudette Sterk of Everson, Wash. St. James had been suffering from dementia for years and living in an assisted care facility in Bellingham, Wash., the city where she was born.

“Margo might be the single most important sexual liberationist and feminist revolutionary who ever slapped society upside its head,” said Santa Cruz journalist and longtime friend Susie Bright. “She was our combat soldier, field nurse and Joan of Arc.”

St. James had come to San Francisco in 1959 from Bellingham as an escaped housewife, mom and aspiring fine arts painter. Once she switched mediums, she became maybe the most prominent sex work advocate since Sally Stanford ran a bordello on Nob Hill.

“Margo only did the most idiosyncratic whoring,” said Bright. “But once she found the political kernel of what she was doing, she never shut up.”

Among the people she never shut up to were lecture audiences worldwide, various government commissions and national daytime TV hosts like Phil Donahue. She also never shut up in San Francisco, where she narrowly lost a campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1996.

Articulate and engaging, she was always good for a publicity stunt. This included dressing in a nun’s habit and making out with a man on the street, and running for the Republican nomination for president in 1980.

Margo St. James, former prostitute, gets a kiss from Robert McNie, a friend, on the way to her party to find out if she is voted as S.F. Supervisor.

“Margo was close to about a thousand people,” said Ron Turner, publisher of Last Gasp books and comics. “She was plainspoken and welcoming, but she took on extremely large adversaries, including just about every pastor in the country.”Margo St. James, former prostitute, gets a kiss from Robert McNie, a friend, on the way to her party to find out if she is voted as S.F. Supervisor.Photo: Deanne Fitzmaurice / The Chronicle 1996

Margaret Jean St. James was born Sept. 12, 1937, the oldest of three children to George and Dorothy St. James, who ran a dairy farm. Known as Peggy, St. James had so much excess energy that when she finished her farm chores, she would take off and run in the hills. While at Bellingham High School, she established herself as a realist painter. One of her works was entered in a New York contest and was chosen to hang in Carnegie Hall, said Sterk.

This artistic calling was derailed when she met Don Sobjack in high school. They were married shortly before their son, Don Jr., was born, which was one month after her high school graduation, Sterk said.

Sobjack was a commercial fisherman and St. James was a housewife, which lasted about two years. “She just realized that she was not cut out to be a mother,” Sterk said. “She was going insane, and she just left her son with his dad and came to San Francisco to pursue her art career.”

St. James was derailed from her artist calling a second time, when she had some of her canvases stolen and lost the rest in a fire on a pier where she kept her studio. Sometime in 1962, she was picked up in a sweep of prostitutes, “though she hadn’t actually done it yet,” Sterk said. But when the judge insisted she did, it set St. James on a whole new trajectory.

“What’s a nice girl like you … ?” was the usual reaction of men to my becoming a feminist as well as to my becoming a prostitute,” St. James wrote in a preface to her then-lover Gail Pheterson’s 1989 nonfiction treatise, “A Vindication of the Rights of Whores.” “The difference for me was that I chose to be a feminist, but I decided to work as a prostitute after being labeled officially by a misogynist judge in San Francisco at age twenty-five. I said in court, ‘Your Honor, I’ve never turned a trick in my life!’ He responded, ‘Anyone who knows the language is obviously a professional.’ ”

So she followed his advice and became one, though it has been debated as to how hard she worked at it. This led to the 1973 creation of COYOTE, which came out of a sister organization called WHO, which stood for “Whores, Housewives and Others,” the others being lesbians who had not yet come out. These included belly dancers, topless dancers and bottomless dancers, along with a supporting cadre of feminist and liberal intellectuals, politicians and even police.

Chronicle columnist Herb Caen was an obvious fan due to the copy generated, most prominently when COYOTE announced itself in the early 1970s and the first Hookers Ball was held in the meeting room at Glide Memorial Church in October 1974. In an on-site TV interview, St. James, wearing an eye mask, said, “My goal is the complete decriminalization of sex for human beings, even commercial sex. Just because we are getting paid for our time doesn’t mean we have to go to jail for it.”

“There were 100 or 200 people there,” said Turner, who attended. “People wore very little clothing but dressed very nicely with what they had on.”

The Hookers Ball became a standard event that moved on to the Civic Auditorium, an event cut short by a bomb scare that left all of the attendees standing out in the cold in their skimpy attire. At another Hookers Ball, at Maritime Hall, “Margo came out riding an elephant,” said Turner, who also once saw her at the Pride Parade dressed as a doctor, in white coat and mustache.

“That was Margo,” Turner said, “she always liked to make a big entrance.”

The ball peaked at 20,000 attendees at the Cow Palace in 1978.

Once when St. James was invited to lecture at Western Washington University, she invited Sterk, by then a country gospel singer with three records out, to come sing a gospel hymn as part of the lecture.

“She liked to shock people,” said Sterk. “From the time that we were little, sister would do whatever she felt like doing.”

Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld, the San Rafael psychiatrist known as Dr. Hip, met St. James in the late 1960s, in a hot tub in a hillside Mill Valley neighborhood known as Druid Heights. She had no clothes on at the moment of introduction and neither did he. At the time, St. James was supplementing her other sources of income with work as a private investigator, and this was one way she gathered information.

From that night on, St. James and Schoenfeld were clothed and close, though it almost cost him his radio talk show and KSAN its license. As an invited guest, she was giving a pleasurable experience to Paul Krassner, while they both were waiting to appear on Dr. Hip’s program. After warming up Krassner, St. James went on the air to offer tips for successful oral sex.

“She was very intelligent and warm and helpful to people,” Schoenfeld said, “and she had a wonderful sense of humor and taste for the outrageous.”

When St. James told Schoenfeld she was settling down again, by marrying Chronicle crime reporter Paul Avery (later portrayed in the film “Zodiac”), she gave a logical reason. Avery at the time was suffering from emphysema and in a wheelchair, carrying an oxygen tank.

“This is one who can’t run away from me,” she said. But she didn’t run away from him either. Married in 1993, she eventually left the Bay Area to take Avery to Orcas Island, Wash., where her family had a cabin.

Avery died in 2000, but St. James stayed on the island. She lived there quietly until memory loss issues overtook her and she was moved onto the Washington mainland.

Survivors include her son, Don Sobjack of Custer, Wash.; sister Claudette Sterk of Everson, Wash.; brother George St. James of Kanaskat, Wash.; half brother John Wachter of Orcas Island; three grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

In the summer, there will be a celebration of life on Orcas Island, where St. James asked that her ashes be spread alongside the ashes of Avery.Sam Whiting is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: swhiting@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @samwhitingsf

Sam Whiting

Follow Sam on:https://www.facebook.com/SFChronicle/samwhitingsf

Sam Whiting has been a feature writer at The San Francisco Chronicle for 30 years. He started in the People section, which was anchored by Herb Caen’s column, and has written about people ever since. For five years he had a weekly Sunday magazine column called Neighborhoods. He currently covers art, culture and entertainment for the Datebook section. He walks a minimum of three miles a day in San Francisco, searching out public art and street art for posting on Instagram @sfchronicle_art.

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Chron rejects comments critical of Boudin editorial

Comments supporting the DA don’t seem to violate the paper’s standards; why were they blocked?

By TIM REDMOND

-JANUARY 13, 2021 (48hills.org)

The San Francisco Chronicle ran yet another nasty piece attacking the new district attorney, this time an editorial blaming him for the hit-and-run killing of two people.

That’s the paper’s right; the Chron has its own positions, and I can disagree with them, but the paper can say anything it wants on its editorial page.

Why are supporters of Chesa Boudin getting blocked from the Chron’s website?

But I’m curious: Some supporters of Boudin posted comments on the editorial, and they were removed because they violated the paper’s comments policy.

The policy says that it’s wants readers to “share their views and exchange ideas in a safe space.” Good. So: “Comments will be removed if they include “insults, profanity, incoherent, obscene or inflammatory language and threats of any kind.”

So why did this comment, by Deputy Public Defender Rebecca Young, get deleted?

At the start of your editorials trashing Boudin you should alert your readers that you openly supported his opponent during the election & that every editorial you wrote then also trashed him & his background. You should remind readers of your incredibly one-sided Op-Ed pages that you never called out the POA for their racist attacks on Boudin. If you were worthy of the profession that honors its best with the Edward R. Murrow Award, you would remind readers that Boudin was elected because everything tried by his predecessors, including Kamala Harris, also FAILED. If you cared for your readers to engage in critical thinking, you would encourage them to examine the social conditions that breed crime; for example, structural racism, poverty, drug addiction & mental illness. Your finger pointing is sophomoric and unhelpful. What Boudin is trying to address are the tried & true but failed approaches to crime. The fixes don’t happen overnight & require the cooperation of those with their hands on levers of power & purse strings, such as the BOS & the Mayor. Instead of attacking him when a tragedy like the deaths of Hanako Abe & Elizabeth Pratt occurs, instead call for a roundtable of educated, informed people in the area of criminal justice reform & sponsor an open & public forum where ideas & possible solutions can be brainstormed? Your Op-Ed is useless venting & offers no solutions.

Or this one, from Deputy Public Defender Sujung Kim:

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The Chronicle has no credibility on this issue. First, during Boudin’s campaign for DA, your paper exploited his  background as a public defender and the son of former Weather Underground members to imply he would bring a radical agenda to the office, while offering little analysis of critically-needed criminal justice reforms in SF: from combatting the years-long lack of prosecuting police killings of Black and Brown victims, to addressing SFPD’s distinction as having one of the lowest violent crime-solving rates of any major police force in CA, and remedying the epidemic of pervasive racism and homophobia in the SFPD ranks uncovered by federal oversight receivers, among others. Second, with some investigation, your paper would have learned that the system is set up for parolees who commit nonviolent violations to be handled by parole agencies, who can send parolees back to prison faster and easier than prosecutors bringing new charges that requires the higher burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Under this system, most DAs would typically send parole violators like McAlister, whose past violations have been drug and theft-related with nothing to indicate he would likely commit the offenses of which he’s now accused, to parole to handle. If this tragic situation resulted from a systemic failure, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Your paper’s scapegoating of Boudin as shouldering the bulk the responsibility is an unfair and false narrative with frankly racist overtones that exploits the death of these two women without offering any helpful solutions to promote justice and healing.

Or this one, from Deputy Public Defender Andrea Lindsay:

Once again, the Chronicle joins the ranks of “journalists” seeking to use a tragedy as a political football. Apparently, nothing was learned from the Chronicle’s blind fanning of the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment in the Steinle case (all the while giving a big boost to Trump’s platform during the last election). This simplistic, knee jerk reaction view of the criminal justice system is precisely what led us to mass incarceration, the failed war on drugs, and draconian sentencing laws. What Boudin’s administration is faced with is untangling decades of failed approaches to criminal justice–including the failures of his predecessors, who refused to allow Mr. McAllister to enter a long term residential treatment program when previously incarcerated. What the hard data shows is that treatment and support services reduce recidivism far more than incarceration, particularly lengthy incarceration. Ms. Platt’s family, in the throes of grief, even noted that she would have likely opposed any recall of Mr. Boudin and probably would have thought him not liberal enough. We as a City should not let this tragedy be the latest war cry for Boudin’s opponents, but rather continue to the hard, complex work of addressing a failed criminal justice system.

Here’s what the Chron told her:

Your comment on Editorial: A horrific crime undercuts progressive goals of S.F. D.A. Chesa Boudin has been rejected as we found similar content to be offensive to other community members

Your comment on Editorial: A horrific crime undercuts progressive goals of S.F. D.A. Chesa Boudin has been rejected as it contains content that is in breach of our community guidelines.

I don’t see anything in any of those comments that would violate the Chron’s policy.

I emailed John Diaz, the editorial page editor, who has never once in his career responded to a single one of my questions, and it’s no surprise he is keeping up his pattern. I also emailed Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the new editor, and he hasn’t answered either.

I’ll let you know if they decide to explain themselves.

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Tim Redmond Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

The Castro’s Rainbow Honor Walk helped me escape 2021 anxiety

Rainbow Honor Walk is a walking tour in the Castro that features dozens of bronze plaques honoring heroes of the LGTBQ community.
Rainbow Honor Walk is a walking tour in the Castro that features dozens of bronze plaques honoring heroes of the LGTBQ community.Blair Heagerty/SFGATE

It’s CASTRO MONTH at SFGATE. We’ll be diving deep into the neighborhood for the entirety of January as part of a new series where we’ll be highlighting a different corner of San Francisco every month this year. 

Tessa McLean  Jan. 13, 2021 (SFGate.com)

I needed to get out of the house.

The pandemic was getting worse by the day. I’d spent the holidays going absolutely nowhere, and the sadness and anger I felt as I watched the siege on America’s Capitol was about to consume me. Seven days into 2021, and I was already burnt out.

I took a short drive over to the Castro, pocketed my headphones, set my phone to silent, and found myself staring down at a 3-by-3-foot bronze plaque embedded into Castro Street’s dark gray sidewalk.Read More

Jane Addams was my first stop on the Rainbow Honor Walk, a roughly mile-long (roundtrip) walk of fame honoring notable LGBTQ individuals throughout history. I had started at Harvey Milk Plaza at the southwest corner of Castro and Market streets, and walked south to reach Addams’ lightly weathered square. Under her bronze-etched Victorian-era hat, she looks up at me with concern, though I may be projecting after the week we’ve all had.

She’s a familiar face to me as she’s the founder of Hull House in Chicago, where I’m from, and yet, I didn’t know she was gay until this moment. Her queer identity is not what she’s known for, of course, but the activist preached social reform for women, children and immigrants during a time when simply living with another woman and sharing a double bed was vilified.

As I continue my stroll south on Castro, I stop and read every plaque, a sight that clearly confused a few passersby. It doesn’t appear to be a common activity in the neighborhood, unsurprisingly since it’s easy to miss the comparatively small sections of the sidewalk if you’re chatting with a friend or staring at your phone.

When David Eugene Perry dreamt up the idea of an LGBTQ walk of fame in 1994, we were in the midst of another epidemic, this one killing primarily gay men. “When we were in the deepest years of the AIDS/HIV epidemic, I was thinking how sad the Castro was and how we were in danger of losing a generation,” Perry said. “I’m hoping that this will be an ongoing source of education and edification of the LGBTQ community.”4

Rainbow Honor Walk is a walking tour in the Castro that features dozens of bronze plaques honoring heroes of the LGTBQ community.
1of4Rainbow Honor Walk is a walking tour in the Castro that features dozens of bronze plaques honoring heroes of the LGTBQ community.Blair Heagerty/SFGATE
Rainbow Honor Walk is a walking tour in the Castro that features dozens of bronze plaques honoring heroes of the LGTBQ community.
Rainbow Honor Walk is a walking tour in the Castro that features dozens of bronze plaques honoring heroes of the LGTBQ community.

It took almost 20 years to make his plan a reality, working closely with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the Department of Public Works, while forming the Rainbow Honor Walk into a nonprofit organization. The first 20 plaques were laid in 2014, after a lengthy process to choose who would be honored in this first installation.

While you may take the walk and wonder where Harvey Milk’s plaque is, it was important for organizers to honor figures from across the globe and educate visitors on those who might be lesser known to the general public. “We said, ‘What would Harvey do?’ Harvey has a state holiday, he already has a small plaque near his camera shop. He has a Muni stop. He would want it to go to someone else that people didn’t know,” Perry said. “I’ve always said Harvey does have a plaque; he gave it to George Choy.”

Choy was an AIDS activist who persuaded the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution for Project 10, the counseling program for LGBTQ teens in public high schools, and his plaque is on the same stretch of street as Addams’.

In 2016, 24 more honorees were chosen, though only an additional 16 plaques have been installed since then. The group is continuing to focus on choosing people who lived openly as LGBTQ, those who had contributed to their field and those who are no longer living.

It’s a work in progress, Perry said, one he said he hopes outlives him and already has been mapped out to go all the way down Market Street to the LGBT Center at Octavia Boulevard. While the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the installation of the next eight plaques, Perry has been thankful that it hasn’t delayed much more of the organization’s work. Fundraising has moved primarily online, but they were still able to raise the money they needed in 2020, largely through corporate and private donations. Each plaque costs about $5,000 to produce, and the Community Benefit Districts maintains the plaques to keep them clean and free of graffiti (something I saw on poor Josephine Baker during my excursion). Aside from a few flecks of paint, Perry said “the biggest enemy of the plaques is chewing gum.”

All work done on behalf of the organization is volunteer-based, so 100% of the money goes toward building and preserving the walk.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents District 8, which includes the Castro, said the walk is an important part of celebrating the history of the neighborhood, even though more could be done to commemorate LGBTQ history in the city. “It’s the most important gayborhood in the world,” Mandelman said. “We’re just getting started on commemorating the history of the queer community and the AIDS crisis in the Castro. I love the Rainbow Honor Walk, and we need to continue building it out, and I also feel like there’s a whole lot more we need to do. We need a real museum, too. I think that’s important.”

Rainbow Honor Walk is a walking tour in the Castro that features dozens of bronze plaques honoring heroes of the LGTBQ community.
Rainbow Honor Walk is a walking tour in the Castro that features dozens of bronze plaques honoring heroes of the LGTBQ community.Blair Heagerty/SFGATE

During the final block of my walk, I realize I got so distracted counting vacant storefronts on Market Street that I missed a plaque. I turn around to double back to Glenn Burke’s square, Major League Baseball’s first out gay player who was born and raised in Oakland. But as I read on, a giant smile spreads across my face and a soft “ha!” escapes my lips as I read on to learn that he was also the inventor of the high five. This little factoid, inconsequential in the grand scheme of all the achievements detailed on these memorials, brought me momentary joy I was unaware I needed so badly.

We’re still in a pandemic. Violent insurrectionists threatened our democracy. With museums still closed for an indefinite period, the familiar shuffle from plaque to plaque gave a meditative quality to this temporary escape. As I read each plaque beneath my sneakered feet, taking a deep breath as I tried to let it sink in, they’re a reminder of what we’ve overcome as a nation before and how much progress there has been. Alan Turing helped to beat the Nazis in World War II. Sally Ride became the first woman in space. Christine Jorgensen was the first widely known person to have sex reassignment surgery.

And while snapping a photo of the high-five trivia fact I will now never forget, I even saw a woman who had passed me earlier stop and study a plaque under her feet.

Tessa is a Local Editor for SFGATE. Before joining the team in 2019, she specialized in food, drink and lifestyle content for numerous publications including Liquor.com, The Bold Italic, 7×7 and more. Contact her at tessa.mclean@sfgate.com.

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San Francisco Berniecrats

SAN FRANCISCO BERNIECRATS

Not Me. Us… We are the revolution. It was never one man. It will still take each of us. Join the San Francisco Berniecrats.

2021 ADEM ENDORSEMENTS

AD17 SIF
Janelle Jolley
Nomvula O’Meara
Christin Evans
Cherelle Jackson
Joy Chaoying Zhan
Jackie Prager
Venecia Margarita

AD17 OSIF
Christopher Christensen
Vanessa Pimentel
Julian LaRosa
William Shields
Jeffrey Kwong
Njon Sanders
Robert Sandoval

AD19 SIF
Kaylah Williams
Alida Fisher
Kalimah Salahuddin
Sophia Andary
Brigitte Davila
Alondra Esquivel

AD19 OSIF
Brandon Harami
Joshua Ochoa
Gabriel Medina
Alan Wong
Gilbert Williams
De’Anthony Daymone Jones

(Contributed by John Fraser)