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Journal of the Plague Year (#23)

Berkeley, CA August 24, 2020 – Completely crazy!

It’s completely crazy that with global warming giving an early accelerant to wildfire season, the State of California dismantled its 3,400 prison inmate firefighter units because of what Governor Newsom says were” budgetary issues.” $7.4 million dollars (in a state budget of $202 billion) is supposedly being “saved” by reducing the available people trained to fight fires. The inmates were being paid $1 an hour for some of the most dangerous and difficult work on earth, a program in existence since WW II. The result: totally inadequate personnel and equipment as more than 500 fires have already burned an area the size of Rhode Island, fouled the air as far away as Kansas, and is nowhere near containment.

Completely crazy that these veteran firefighters, when released from prison, were not recruited to become civilian firefighters in an understaffed (“for budgetary reasons”) agency. But were in many cases not even allowed to apply for such jobs, due to their “records,” documenting whatever offense may have gotten them in trouble and into prison. Released from custody because even with months to arrange for their confinement in COVID-19 resistant environments, the State of California did not construct or convert structures to do this. Released from custody because they were of the “caste” for whom nothing is done. Few had any means of survival back on the streets, except to return to illegal activities. They would have jumped at the chance to have good jobs as firefighters, for which they obviously had the skills. (“A Wary California Released Inmate Firefighters. Now Fires Rage.” “New York Times” 8/22/2020)

It’s completely crazy that in order to staff an underused facility whose activity is contrary to the stated social policy of rehabilitation rather than incarceration the elected officials of Contra Costa County have voted to hire 25 more law enforcement officers and just one new mental health worker .

It’s completely crazy that the cost of that single mental health worker is estimated to be $291,805. (“East Bay Times,” 8/13/2020)

It’s completely crazy that much of an additional $1.75 million in federal money supposedly dedicated to reviving the economy is now going to be used to hire more people “to transport these deputies” and “provide a safe working environment” for them.

All of this is because “state hospitals that are supposed to take in arrested people who are incompetent to stand trial or who are awaiting a competency decision have massive delays and lack of space.” Which is completely crazy because anyone remotely familiar with the results of Governors Deukmejian/Wilson/Davis/Brown Demoblican consensus on crime knows that one of its incontrovertible results has been a pandemic of mental illness. Which has resulted in numerous lawsuits concerning prison mental health conditions, which remain much worse than on the street, where it’s already rampant. (East Bay Times, 8/13/2002)

It is completely crazy for there to be a triumphalism expressed that another exurban road has been “completed” to “help” with traffic in areas which have been “developed” (i.e. destroyed) by sprawl and unsound building practices which contribute to the out-of-control toxic wildfires year after year . “For much of the past century as the state’s population has built homes, towns, and parks in rural areas, firefighters have extinguished the flames to save property and lives, allowing forests and other landscapes to become unnaturally dense. As a result, fires now burn hotter and with more intensity…with climate change adding to the problem.”(“East Bay Times” 8/22/2020)

It’s completely crazy that a pre-college boys basketball tournament is being held at the Courtside Center near Rocklin this weekend. Placer County officials have tried to “dissuade” teams from participating. It’s completely crazy that their major means of “dissuasion” seems to have been “posting signs on the facility’s doors stating, “Sports tournaments are not allowed at this time.” Kids and their coaches and families walked right in anyway. through doors somehow left unlocked. The signs were torn down and not replaced.

It’s completely crazy that a spokeswoman for Placer County says they did all they could to educate the public. She said she was referring the matter to the Sheriff’s office. Which issued a completely crazy statement that “all we are doing is educating. We can’t really enforce a crime that doesn’t exist in the Penal Code or Health and Safety Code.” Really? There’s no law or health regulation about dangerous behavior in a time of pandemic? Or is there just no will to enforce such laws and regulations, from the Governor’s office on down? (“East Bay Times” 8/22/2020)

It’s completely crazy that in the same sport, basketball, played at high speed by participants panting and gasping for air, world-class athletes, with strong, agile bodies, is generating injuries - potentially life-threatening injuries. The NBA is performing (albeit with all games in a Florida “bubble” arena with no spectators) because of the “business model” imposed by TV contracts. ESPN requires some kind of “content” to fill in the time between commercials. Many players, including some major stars (Steph Curry, Kevin Durant) have chosen to sit out the season, as team trainers and doctors warned that if players were required to compete with only three weeks of practice, it would be physically dangerous to their bodies even without a pandemic. And it has been. At least ten players are now out with “soft tissue” injuries they might have avoided through longer traditional pre-season conditioning. 

It’s completely crazy” to contemplate what will happen if the next major sport tries to roll out its dice in a few weeks. Already, four weeks into its abbreviated 60 game season, Major League Baseball still has to cancel games as more players test positive for COVID-19. Next, comes TV’s biggest sports moneymaker, the National Football League, where there is no way to have “social distancing.” Just about every play ends in a pile of bodies. 

Add to the virus risks the new danger of toxicity from the thousands of wildfires burning out of control in most of California. It’s completely crazy to “reopen” for outdoor dining places that are well within the wildfires’ toxic haze, as Governor Newsom did this week. It’s been painful to watch him emerge as a very diminished, ineffectual, seemingly confused politician. Reduced to bragging about what a good relationship he has with….Donald Trump…and to making announcements that some people in some counties can go out and dine at sidewalk tables and frolic in parks while toxic air grew worse as the COVID-19 situation, which doesn’t respect county lines, showed no sign of lasting improvement.

It is completely crazy for there to be a triumphalism expressed that another exurban road has been “completed” to “help” with traffic in areas which have been “developed” (i.e. destroyed) by sprawl and unsound building practices which contribute to the out-of-control toxic wildfires year after year (East Bay Times 8/21/2020).

Want more? Following the meteoric rise and unexpected popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the successful push by progressive activists nationwide to get a woman of color nominated to run with Biden, it seemed that the moment had come to codify reform of some of the worst human rights abuses by law enforcement. It is completely crazy this is not happening

In California, modest measures withdrawing immunity from criminal charges for law enforcement personnel, as well as allowing the attorney general to intervene in investigating alleged abuses of citizen rights by law enforcement, seem fated to die this week in the legislature. Or, if miraculously resurrected and passed, unsigned by Newsom. It’s completely crazy that even barring choke holds (can you say Eric Garner? or George Floyd?) isn’t likely to become law. Similarly doomed: measures that would create a statewide registry to monitor police with bad records, to allow victims of violence to sue for restitution, to protect media reporting on police actions and to restrict or eliminate the use of tear gas and supposedly ‘non-lethal” weapons. Even a law which would allow “de-certification” of officers guilty of abuse doesn’t seem likely to happen. So a cop who was fired by one police department is still eligible for hire elsewhere. Even in a neighboring city or county (“Cal Matters,” 8/18/2020)

Why? The usual toxic mix of campaign money (police union-based funds and police-addicted wealthy people) far outspend racial justice advocates. Many of whom are themselves busily engaged in their “issues’ activist groups and don’t believe in engaging in the kind of work that’s involved in passing legislation. Or even in electing Presidents. The triumphalism that greeted Kamala Harris’ selection was revelatory. Never mind what a mixed record she had in San Francisco and statewide. One of “us” will be “in there” at last, crowed the “she” and “we” gang.

How much legislative transformation is needed can be seen in New York. This week’s devastating release of a long withheld study of police practices shows that 323,000 accusations of police misconduct were filed there since 1985. Only 8,699 resulted in any “action,” including “letters of reprimand.” 1,150 officers were named in the complaints. Only 12 officers were dismissed. The agency responsible for receiving and ruling on the complaints has a staff of 200, and an annual budget of $20 million. The police department has 36,000 officers and a budget of $6 billion. Establishment Democratic Party elected officials like Governor Anthony Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio resisted release of the records. Only the recent upset elections of numerous progressive state legislators changed the equation.

These newly elected progressives, although still small in number, are having an outsize influence on President Trump and his Republican allies at their on-line “Convention” this week. Republicans are unable to run on their record. They need to avoid attention being brought to their deadly deficiencies and mistakes in combating the COVID–19 pandemic. Or their role in making the rich richer and everyone else poorer or desperate through tax gimmicks. Or in doing anything about law enforcement brutality. 

So the theme of Trump’s re-election campaign will be a return to the “Law and Order” nonsense of the Nixon years and the “Shining City on a Hill” nonsense of Ronald Reagan. Republican Convention speakers will attempt to rally their voters by rhetoricizing Democrats as “radicals” who will destroy the country. If only! (“Radical Dems will be Trump’s boogeyman” “S.F. Chronicle” 8/23/2002.)

“The flowers have never been more beautiful, and at night a curved moon still hangs in the sky. Spring does not slow its arrival just because no one can go out and look at it. Nature is generous, sumptuous…wild animals enter the city and saunter about. Fish and birds not seen for a time appear within their habitat. Humans, like viruses, have hijacked the ecology of the Earth and wrought damage. Survival, desire, narrow dogma and perplexing arrogance (which arises from ignorance) fill humans whose bodies last a set time. Like viruses, humans need hosts. When science and reason someday give us the key to everything, that may be the moment we lose everything.”

Ai Weiwei, “Time, Space and the Virus”

“The Atlantic,” July/August 2020

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