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Our Times: Virtue Signaling

“Hate has no home here” is one of the seven deadly virtues enumerated on lawn signs I pass if my evening walk takes me towards Alameda’s Gold Coast. (Our cozy cottage is in the center of the Island City geographically and socio-economically, equidistant from the blocks of stately Victorians in one direction and E-Z Liquor and Check Cashing #2 in the other.) 

An informative piece about the lawn sign phenomenon ran in the Times Oct. 29. ”Before the sign was everywhere,” Amanda Hess explains, “it was outside the home of Kristin Garvey, a librarian in Wisconsin. In what she has called a postelection ‘fog,’ Garvey took a Sharpie to poster board, scrawled a range of social-justice slogans into that now-ubiquitous list and planted it in her yard. Soon a photograph of the sign hit Facebook and went viral. With the help of a redesign from a professional artist (who rendered its words in rainbow letters on a black background) and a boost from Pantsuit Nation (the online hive of Hillary Clinton supporters), its message became a mantra among liberals who felt lost in Trump’s America.”

The classic version of the sign lists seven things that “In this house we believe.” They are: “Water is Life. Hate has no home here. Diversity makes us stronger. Science is real. No human is illegal. We can make a difference. Kindness is everything.” I give myself a 3.5, maybe a 3.0.

As Hess points out, “The sign’s message drives to a perplexingly apolitical conclusion. With its exhaustive list of allied issues, it resembles a multipurpose kitchen gadget — it can chop, it can dice, but often it sits in the drawer unused. Listing all the social-justice slogans together nods to a careful effort at inclusivity, but it also diffuses the sign owner’s perceived responsibility to engage in any particular movement. The kicker, ‘Kindness Is Everything,’ assures the owner that the real key to change lies within. The important thing is that a person be the kind of person who would display the sign. This is the epitome of virtue signaling: an actual sign enumerating the owner’s virtues.”

Ersie Joyner

If you live in the Bay Area and watch the news, you might have an opinion about Ersie Joyner, a retired OPD officer who exchanged gunfire with would-be robbers while filling up his Porsche at an Oakland gas station last month. An essay by Keenan Norris in the SF Chronicle Nov. 14 acknowledges that Joyner is ”an equity owner in Joyous Recreation and Wellness, a cannabis company that, according to its website, manufactures a diverse array of vapes, concentrates, tinctures, topicals and edibles.” Instead of putting down Joyner as a scam artist — a victimizer profiting from a program intend to help victims of the War on Drugs — Norris makes the PC point that ganjapreneurs need access to the banking system. 

He writes, “It has been speculated that Joyner may have been targeted because cannabis businesses often deal in and have to regularly transport large amounts of cash; banks would rather not touch money that has been accrued from a federally prohibited source. Getting tougher on crime cannot solve a problem that tough-on-crime measures created. Criminal justice reform can solve it. While Joyner was simply minding his own business at the gas pump before the robbery attempt, the right of Joyner and others to safely own and operate a cannabis business is being assaulted at the federal legislative level as well as on the streets.”

This is liberal jive. The “problem” that “created” the robbery attempt is Poverty, and “Criminal justice reform” can’t “solve” it. As Justin Phillips of the Chronicle pointed out Nov. 12, “The local economic divide falls along distinct color lines. More than 50% of Black and Latino residents in San Francisco are in very-low-income families, according to the Bay Area Equity Atlas, a progressive data analysis group. Boys born into these families are 20 times more likely to wind up in prison as adults, according to a 2018 study by the the Brookings Institution, a policy research center in Washington, D.C. We know staggering income inequality is the root of crime. Yet the people doing the painstaking work of addressing it are often scapegoated for enabling it.” Phillips goes on to defend San Francisco’s beleaguered District Attorney Chesa Boudin. 

Attorney Bill Panzer, whose office is in Oakland, recalls having two cases involving Ersie Joyner “back when he was a sergeant. In one, my client’s new Movado watch, which he had just received from his parents as a graduation present, ‘disappeared.’ In that same case, Joyner, in an attempt to raise a possession case to a sales case, amazingly testified that heroin junkies don’t keep heroin around because they will use it. Therefore, anyone with more than a fix or two must be a dealer.

“In another case, Joyner illegally entered my client’s home, then falsified information on a search warrant. About $1000 of seized money ‘disappeared’ when turned in by Joyner.

This is the best I recall from memory. I have more info at the office.”

‘A Lot of Pressure on Mother Nature’

Lake Mendocino running dry was front page news in the SF Chronicle Nov. 15: “Lake Serving Sonoma, Mendocino Counties at less than 20% capacity,” the subhed announced. Extensive excerpts follow:

“State officials warn that Lake Mendocino could be the first major reservoir in modern times to go dry... Officials worry that the looming wet winter season won’t bring enough inflow to meet next year’s water demands...The region’s water managers recently learned that a nearby Pacific Gas and Electric hydroelectric plant that supplies about 30% of the reservoir’s water is offline for at least 18 months because of a faulty electric transformer. The out-of-service Potter Valley Project, which gets water from a neighboring watershed, will send only minimal flows to the lake in the meantime.

“The hydroelectric facility normally operates by drawing water from the Eel River watershed to the north, to drive the turbines, and dispensing it in the east fork of the Russian River, where it flows to the lake. Until the powerhouse is fixed, which could be two years, PG&E doesn’t need the water, which leaves the company obliged to move only minimum amounts to the Russian River for fish and wildlife.

“‘This is going to make us incredibly dependent on seeing five or six more big (storm) events like we saw (last month),’ said Don Seymour, principal engineer for Sonoma Water, referring to the 7 inches of rain that fell in Ukiah over a few days in October. ‘It puts a lot more pressure on Mother Nature.’

“Sonoma Water and others vested in Lake Mendocino have requested that PG&E increase its water transfers. PG&E, though, may face legal and logistical constraints to doing so. It also could face opposition from some who want to keep more water in the Eel River.

“‘We are evaluating whether we have the ability to make discretionary diversions for non-generational purposes,’ PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno told The Chronicle in an email.

“The water levels at the lake and in the river downstream are also affected by increased groundwater pumping. With the river and reservoir providing less water, people have been more reliant on wells, sometimes pumping water so close to the surface that they’re undercutting the creeks that feed the basin and the Russian River itself. Reservoir managers recognize the loss but don’t have an exact accounting of it.

“Also, officials say current storage in the lake may be overstated. Since the reservoir’s construction in 1958, it has been slowly accumulating sediment on its floor. The volume of water that the reservoir holds today could be thousands of acre-feet less than what the gauges say it is.”

How Can We Miss Him If He Won’t Go Away?

Whenever there was a new Todd Gitlin sighting, Cockburn used to call up and ask with a wicked chuckle, “Is your hate still pure?” Alex dubbed Gitlin, “The Official Historian of the 1960s.” There he was on MSNBC the other night, having co-authored “An Open Letter in Defense of Democracy” with neo-con pundit William Kristol. They and their co-signers contend that “liberal democracy itself is in serious danger. Liberal democracy depends on free and fair elections, respect for the rights of others, the rule of law, a commitment to truth and tolerance in our public discourse. All of these are now in serious danger. The primary source of this danger is one of our two major national parties, the Republican Party, which remains under the sway of Donald Trump and Trumpist authoritarianism...”

And there was Gitlin again in the NY Times Book Review Nov. 14 giving thumbs up to “Generation Occupy: Reawakening American Democracy” by a man named Michael Levitin. 

Gitlin himself has written a book praising the Occupy Movement. He agrees with Levitin that Occupy Wall Street was “the beginning of the beginning” of some big Progressive surge. ”Hundreds of replicas sprouted across the country,” Gitlin gushes in his review. “These activists were ‘horizontalist.’ They disdained the idea of making specific demands, or rather they proliferated them, including ‘Tax Wall Street Transactions’ and ‘Bring back Glass-Steagal’...” (Which was it, professor, disdained or proliferated?) 

The pretentious writing isn’t that important; what matters is his misleading political analysis. The key line is “Hundreds of replicas sprouted across the country... Perhaps 300,000 people became involved with the movement at its height.”

“Hundreds of replicas” of Occupy Wall Street made zero sense because there’s only one Wall Street where the Masters of the Universe make their plans, and it’s in lower Manhattan. “Occupy” encampments at venues like the plaza adjoining Oakland’s City Hall served no purpose whatsoever, and so the so-called movement was doomed to fritter out. I went over to that plaza a couple of times, listened to the speeches, ran into people I knew, went on a march where I spotted many OPD cops in plainclothes getting overtime pay. Self-styled anarchists in pre-covid masks impressed their girlfriends by breaking plate-glass windows and spray-painting the facades of buildings, forever alienating the small business owners whose insurance undoubtedly went up. Scott Olsen, a beautiful young man who had deployed twice to Iraq as a Marine and was checking out the scene with some friends, got hit in the eye by a lead-filled beanbag fired from close range by a shotgun-wielding OPD officer who was never identified. Olsen’s skull and a vertebrae were fractured; a brain hemorrhage almost killed him. I visited him in Highland Hospital exactly 20 years after I’d visited Judi Bari there.

To show that Occupy Wall St. was “the beginning of the beginning” Gitlin makes a big stretch: “The impacts reverberated through the culture... Occupy activists went to the aid of victims of Hurricane Sandy; helped block the Keystone XL pipeline; joined the Lakota Sioux to resist another oil pipeline at Standing Rock; and threw themselves into all manner of climate-change campaigns. Horizontalism proved to be more than a fringe taste, as Occupy veterans joined union organizers in a ‘Fight for $15’ campaign that swept the fast-food industry and inspired minimum wage referendums and laws throughout the country, even in red states.” The first and last on his list post-Occupy accomplishment were do-gooder efforts, hardly radical. Opposition to the pipeline was led by Native Americans, which Gitlin neglects to mention. The well-meaning Occupy alumni didn’t exactly join the Lakota Sioux... Why am I being so hyper-critical? My hate is still pure!


  1. Michael Levitin November 20, 2021

    What an underqualified and scattershot commentary… you have an axe to grind with Gitlin and the post-Occupy analysis, yet this is the best you can do? This blowhard criticism says nada.

  2. Fred Gardner November 21, 2021

    Michael Levitin is the author of the book Professor Gitlin praised in the NY Times Book Review.

    Though underqualified, I stand by my point: the original Occupy Wall St. action made sense as we read and heard about it from 3,000 miles away. There was a logical target —the nerve center of Capital. There was a focus —the illegitimacy of debt— and a demand for its elimination. There was leadership coming from a brilliant anthropologist named David Graeber. Occupy Oakland, which I figured was typical of the copycat Occupy actions, was a demoralizing waste of time and energy, with no political focus and hidden leadership.

    Your book, according to Gitlin, claims that hundreds of thousands who participated in these copycat Occupies were inspired to take part in other worthy causes. My guess is that they were well-meaning people who soldiered on despite the detour taken in 2011.

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