Nice mural, 207th y Payson
Count on the New York Times for nuance on so many questions. In an election where a wildly unpopular incumbent has brought literally hundreds of lawsuits across the country to make voting during a raging pandemic harder — every vote not cast against him is a little victory, bringing him closer to successfully contesting the results of the election. Even a judicially rigged election can only be stolen if it is fairly close.
The president claims to have trained 50,000 staunch supporters to act as poll watchers, doing everything that needs to be done to prevent the massive Socialist, Democrat, Anarchist, Antifa voter fraud that he predicts. Today the NYT brought a little nuance to the question of what constitutes voter intimidation under our laws. I read this stuff and my blood boils a little — partly because of what the paper reports and partly because of the maniacally reasonable, scrupulously non-judgmental manner in which they report it.
Trump’s latest nominee, current Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was rushed onto the court to counterbalance fellow former Bush v. Gore attorney John Roberts’s sometimes swing vote (usually to preserve an appearance of court integrity). If Trump can contest the election results in the nation’s highest court, he wants to be assured that the outcome will go the right way. He’s said as much, that why he uses the Federalist Society list to choose his carefully vetted extreme right-wing corporatist justices from. Coney Barrett refused to answer most questions posed to her, including a question about voter intimidation at the polls. She dodged it by saying it would depend on the specific facts. The New York Times had the newest Justice’s back today.
It turns out, according to the Times, and the Department of Justice, that saying exactly what is or is not voter intimidation is notoriously hard to do — it varies so much from state to state, county to county. You can read the entire article here, but I’ll give you one of my favorite bits. See if you can detect what made my head start to explode a little:
In 2008, two members of the New Black Panther Party, a racist Black separatist group , stood outside an overwhelmingly Black and Democratic polling place in Philadelphia wearing black outfits that were described as uniforms. One of them held a billy club and identified himself as “security.”
Though officials said no voters complained of intimidation, and no criminal charges were filed, the case became a celebrated cause among conservatives, who criticized the Justice Department for dropping most of a related civil lawsuit after President Barack Obama took office.
That case was handled by local authorities as most disturbances at the polls are across the country: on the spot. The man with the billy club was asked to leave, and he complied.
Other reports of voter intimidation have involved largely legal activity such as voter challenges. Virtually every state allows election observers, sometimes called poll watchers or challengers. Some permit voters to be challenged on Election Day on specific grounds, such as their residency, citizenship, lack of proper identification or because they are believed to have already voted.
In the past some groups have used methods including mass mailings to generate lists of potentially ineligible voters. To prevent the use of such lists, which are often riddled with errors, some states require that the challenger have personal knowledge of the voter’s ineligibility.
The Trump campaign has said it is training 50,000 volunteer poll watchers, which has raised concerns about voter intimidation. In Minneapolis, the police union put out a call on behalf of a Trump campaign official for retired officers to volunteer as challengers in “problem” areas, according to a report in The Star Tribune.
“Poll Challengers do not ‘stop’ people, per se, but act as our eyes and ears in the field and call our hotline to document fraud,” the official wrote in an email, according to the report. “‘We don’t necessarily want our Poll Challengers to look intimidating.’”
Read this article and you may agree with the author, the Times and Amy Coney Barrett — it’s very, very hard to tell which attempts to stop voters from casting a ballot are outright intimidation and which fall arguably within the law. Feelings of intimidation by the voters themselves, it appears, are not the most important consideration when deciding this highly technical legal issue — even if nobody at the polling place feels intimidated or makes a complaint — there can still, legally, be voter intimidation. Conversely, just because armed “poll watchers” might make a steely-eyed military style “I’m watching you, motherfucker” sign at you as you enter the polling place, and you are challenged as being an imposter about to commit felony fraud once inside, does not mean anyone is, necessarily, trying to intimidate you or that you have a legal leg to stand on making such a claim.
We live in America, a land of law. And law is complicated. The reason for that is we have one set of laws for everybody, or, rather, at least fifty sets of sometimes conflicting laws — since criminal, civil, civic and family law are largely matters of state law. This includes election laws. Luckily, in America we have many lawyers available for hire, to tell you what each law may mean for you personally.
Related, but unrelated, is the “American Rule” which states that each side pays its own legal fees in almost all non-criminal cases. In many other countries, if you bring a lawsuit to harass or intimidate somebody, or to try to get out of paying them what you legally owe them, and you lose — you pay their lawyers and all court fees as well as paying what you owe them. The American Rule ensures that the wealthy, and large corporations, have an immense advantage in all litigation since they can often simply bankrupt opponents by driving up legal fees (with multiple motions, depositions, discovery demands, etc.) and forcing them to drop the case, or settle for pennies on the dollar.
The American Rule on steroids is when an unprincipled, rich, litigious bastard is able to use the tax deductible donations of other unprincipled, rich, litigious bastards to pay for hundreds of simultaneous lawsuits nationwide to stop the counting of legally cast ballots, in preparation for a Supreme Court challenge in a court those same unprincipled, rich, litigious donor bastards have packed with loyal, ideologically committed supporters. Now, you tell me what is voter suppression, voter intimidation, in that scenario?
Wait, I know, I know.
Am I right?
My hackles were first raised by the seemingly gratuitous description of this party as “racist”. A two second google search showed that this party is not the successor to the Black Panther party but a new outfit founded in 1989, using the brand, but in a way many have called racist. Here’s the link to the google search. The Southern Poverty Law Center blurb, for example, reads: The New Black Panther Party is a virulently racist and antisemitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law …
Verdict– NY Times reporting on the nature of this outfit likely vindicated.
A friend who knew a lot about cats told us it was a shame the wild little beauty who was sitting at our feet, just out of reach, had been untouched by humans for the first months of her life. Once they are feral you can’t really get too close to them, she told us. This kitten came to trust us and eventually love being petted by us (when she felt like it, of course). She became our outdoor pet.
One day, in the first spring of her life, before she was even six months old, she marched her first litter of tiny lookalikes out of the bushes, to show Sekhnet to them. She will feed you when I’m done, she told them, and it came to pass.
Sekhnet was horrified when Mama Kitten chased her first kittens out of the garden. They’d been weaned, and learned to get food from humans (and to hunt a bit as well) and suddenly Mama was driving them away, quite savagely. What a bitch! said Sekhnet. We started to learn about cats in nature, nature which is as cruel as it is kind.
Mama Kitten was tough. She had to be to survive out there. She gave birth to her next litter shortly after banishing her first.
Over the next three years she gave birth to many more, producing more than twenty beautiful little kittens in her first four years of life. Few survived very long — five that we know of.
We hesitated to give them names, because it would create more attachment and make their deaths more personal, somehow. Sekhnet began giving descriptive names only, so we had a way of referring to them as they had their adventures in the garden.
Of Mama’s second to last litter of four, two daughters, Little Girl and White Back, survived. They occupy the garden to this day. The girls stood together, refusing to be intimidated by their mother, the first to do that, and both survive.
In the end, with the help of an almost insanely dedicated cat rescuer, we were able to trap Mama Kitten and the others and have them spayed, and the father (we assume) neutered as well. For a year and a half we’ve had a stable little colony in the garden. It was disrupted briefly a couple of months ago by five adorable little ferals whose mother abandoned them by the best cat buffet in the neighborhood. We managed to catch, domesticate and find homes for all five.
One day, not long ago, Little Girl, who always stayed close to her mother (they were known as the Driveway Bitches for their ruthless shakedowns for treats) and had always deferred to her mother in all things, snatched some food from her. I instantly intervened, and Mama finished what she was eating, but the writing was on the wall.
A day or two later a friend noticed one of Mama’s eyes looked a little funny. A few days later she lost interest in food, even the favorites Sekhnet brought to her. She took to one of the houses we made, staying warm. Then, one rainy, miserable night a couple of days ago she disappeared. Little Girl was now sleeping in her house.
We figured Mama Kitten had crawled off to die somewhere, probably in the nearby strip of wooded area across the service road. She was not yet six years old, but feral cats live much shorter lives than pampered indoor cats.
I had intended to write about her death yesterday, but somehow I didn’t get to it. Last night, after we moved the car for the firs time in a few days, to do some shopping, we found out what happened to Mama Kitten. She’d made it as far as the narrow space behind the car, before breathing her last. I put her in a box, closed the flaps carefully, and carried her a short distance to a wooded area where Sekhnet covered her coffin with branches full of dry leaves.
We spent the next few hours looking for photos of this beautiful cat. Here is the hero shot:
I thought at first that the lesson of Mama Kitten’s death was the simple reminder that we all must die, that it is part of nature and that a creature who showed no signs of being sick (she could jump up on to her petting table until the end) knew when to accept the approach of Death and when to go gracefully with it.
During these fearful days when the possibility of our own deaths is closer than usual, I’ve been thinking about death a lot. Mama Kitten’s death was a reminder of the pain for those left behind. I feel it clutching at my chest as I try to conclude this post with some thoughtful words. The pain is great for this stray cat we cared for, who crawled off to die, and didn’t make it to the woods.
How much more immense is our pain for a human we have known, who has touched our lives, made us laugh, held us when we were afraid?
This long-dead poet says it best, as I recalled with tears when I found it among my emails last night, searching for pictures of Mama Kitten, in her prime.
Just three quick things about this autocratic, in-your-fucking-face, unconstitutional, symbolic power play by Trump and ever-creative extreme right-wing religious fanatic Bagpiper Bill Barr, designating my home town (and two other Democrat  cities) an “anarchist jurisdiction” not entitled to federal funds lawfully provided by Congress. Talk about “triggering the libtard cucks!” (in places that clearly dislike Mr. Trump and his lurch toward autocracy).
First: what a great picture of di Blasio and the Bagpiper! (from a youTube come-on)
Second: this vilification of cities (and the illegal attempt to impose the president’s policies– and fiscal pain– on a city in an independent, sovereign state, during a pandemic) is an old chestnut from the modern totalitarian playbook (see, for example, the chapter on Vienna from Mein Kampf, a book a few years from its hundredth birthday).
A stock part of fascist propaganda is based on the myth of a pure folk, who live primarily in the unspoiled rural areas, constantly in danger from lazy degenerate mongrels who live in decadent cities. From Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.
(me, summarizing his chapter SODOM AND GOMORRAH):
Cities, which tend to be places where diverse populations live and work, and differences are tolerated, even embraced, are seen in fascist politics in stark contrast to the countryside, where the mythic national purity they extoll still prevails. Stanley cites a few counter-factual lines from one of Donald Trump’s campaign speeches:
“Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever. You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street.” And yet during this time, cities in the United States were enjoying their lowest rates of crime in generations and record low unemployment. Trump’s rhetoric about cities makes sense in the context of a more general fascist politics, in which cities are seen as centers of disease and pestilence, containing squalid ghettos filled with despised minority groups living off the work of others.
Third: According to men like Bagpiper Bill Barr, and America’s Greatest Dealmaker and Winner — and the least racist, most stable genius ever to lead our great nation — these despised, parasitic minorities are enraged because they are inferior. Simple as that, their sorry genetic stock comes from shit hole countries, the poor bastards.
These people, in the reflexive racist mind, are born losers who are irrationally angry, people whose rage makes them self-destructively turn on the very people who risk their lives to protect them, authority-keepers who almost never kill them while they are not resisting — hardly ever even cripple them, though Christ knows they richly deserve it for being such vicious, stupid ingrates who constantly act against their own best interests and blame everyone else for their own problems.
Remind you of anyone?
Here is a more nuanced and detailed look at this desperate campaign stunt by the fervent Attorney General:
Today started off with Attorney General William Barr designating New York City, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, as “Jurisdictions Permitting Violence and Destruction of Property.” His statement responded to Trump’s September 2 memorandum calling for a review of funding to “state and local governments that are permitting anarchy, violence, and destruction in American cities.”
The idea of defunding cities is vague and it is also odd, considering how many Americans actually live in cities. The U.S. Conference of Mayors wrote to Trump on September 7 to ask him to rescind his memorandum, noting that “attacks on America’s cities are attacks on America itself. America’s cities represent 86 percent of the Nation’s population and 91 percent of real gross domestic product (GDP)…. Cities are the Nation’s incubators of talent: people flock to cities to take advantage of their accessibility, diversity, inclusiveness, vibrancy, infrastructure and innovation,” they wrote. They warned that if he tried to enforce a restriction on funding, they would sue, and would almost certainly win. They reminded him: “This is a time our Nation needs unity, not division, among all levels of government.”
This new declaration is little more than a distraction, meant to try to resurrect the old “law and order” ploy and take our eyes off… what?
Let us make no mistake about this pejorative (and increasingly widely accepted) reference to the “Democrat Party” and “Democrat” cities— these are cities run by democratically elected Democratic mayors.
These mayors are Democrats, but their party is called the Democratic party and if you call their city by the name of their political party they, New York, Portland, Seattle, Washington D.C., are actually Democratic cities. HEY, WAIT!
“Well, you see, that’s another reason we call them ‘Democrat’ cities (pause to hit the spittoon square in the middle), run by the, heh ‘Democrat party’… whell, hell, you can’t really dog whistle any clearer than that, now can you? We all know what ‘Democrat mayor’ refers to, you can picture her, and it don’t take a damned oversensitive damn n-word to tell you what tune this dog whistle is whistling. We ain’t just whistling Dixie, son.”
This cast iron octoroon has aged beautifully, the sign not so much. When I was a boy, more than half a century ago, this little jockey had a brown face. Now he’s in white face. My, how times have changed.
I’ve been lucky enough, during this pandemic, to be locked down with Sekhnet at her little farm, in a neighborhood of lower density than my place in Manhattan. It’s actually a short walk from here to where Fred Trump’s mansion was, where little Donald grew up to be the great man he is today.
Here, unlike in the more urban parts of New York City, you can walk on tree-lined streets and easily avoid contact with the few others also out walking. It seems a bit safer here, in this much lower density area, taking precautions and waiting for the Second Wave the experts predict for flu season. We’re taking all reasonable precautions — isolation, N95 masks when out in public, frequent hand washing — even though several speakers at the RNC made it clear– to their base, at least — that the Leader has eradicated the pandemic in the USA in an amazing and praiseworthy fashion that only the deranged can’t see.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I took the subway for the first time in months, to meet Sekhnet and a friend at one of our favorite vegetarian restaurants in Manhattan. We ate under a tent on lower First Avenue. The condition of the subway car (which I caught at the first stop) was amazing. It was actually gleaming.
Sad as we felt the last few days, knowing we’d have to part with these beautiful, trusting, affectionate little souls, that sorrow is fading as we know they’re in good hands. We brought them to a great cat shelter in Freeport yesterday, spent a sad night missing them, but today was much better.
A reminder that doing the right thing might sometimes hurt for a while, but it passes, the thing was worth doing and what remains is having done a good thing. This case was the literal living out of the old saying — if you love somebody set them free.
The sudden withdrawal from that unlimited tender playfulness on demand that these little cats gave us whenever we spent time with them (when they weren’t napping) was painful, true, but our plan all along was to give them long lives of affection and safety we couldn’t provide them, much as we may have wanted to.
They are all being well cared for at an excellent shelter (where they’re all currently sleeping together and being treated for roundworm — they’ll be roaming the rooms with the others in a few days). They will shortly become pets, sharing tenderness with humans who will fall for them quickly.
As they deserve.
Yesterday I chased a rogue male cat who’d been aggressive toward the little feral colony we feed. This cat, who we call Grey Guy, is usually quick to leave the garden when threatened, but yesterday, though I sprayed him with the garden hose, he hardly moved. He didn’t move away very far, got a bit wet, looked back at me, reproachfully. When Sekhnet encountered him a few minutes later, he was determined to make contact with her, though she at first sprayed him too.
“He’s dying,” she told me afterwards, with tears, “he figured he had nothing to lose.” She brought him a meal, and as she led him to it I saw for the first time how sick he looked, skinny, mangey, sad, with a distended stomach hanging to one side. His eyes were barely open, he moved with difficulty. He seemed clearly close to death. He ate a bit of his last meal, before an opportunistic intruder named Giovanni made off with the last of it. He was too weak to fight off the much younger challenger and Sekhnet was not guarding him at the moment. We’ve taken to pegging the aggressive Giovanni with small stones when he hops the fence looking for food.
The cats we feed are Mama Kitten (so named because she gave birth to at least 20 kittens over the course of about three years, from a very young age) her three surviving daughters, Paint Job, White Back and Little Girl, and their probable father, Spot. We watched almost every one of Mama Kitten’s offspring die or disappear. We learned not to get too attached to the kittens, who tended to have very short lives in the wild. Recently we trapped Mama, Spot and the three surviving daughters (who were old enough to get pregnant) and took them to a vet to be “fixed.” Here is Mama with her first litter, back in September 2015.
That big kitten toward her back legs we named Grey Guy. He also disappeared after a few months, we assumed a hawk got him. Hawks circle overhead here during kitten season. They are circling today.
This stable little group protects their turf from intruders and we help them enforce their claim whenever we see another cat trying to get in on their action. Giovanni (likely another of Spot’s offspring) has been a particularly insistent interloping pain in the ass, he bullies White Back and Paint Job and I’ve changed my attitude toward him. It’s true he’s only trying to survive, but still, chasing our cats across the speeding traffic in the service road is a one way ticket to somewhere else.
About a year ago a haggard looking grey cat stood watching me on a street a couple of blocks from the house. He didn’t run, or even back away, when I approached him. He seemed to know me, and he was clearly hungry. He appeared to be the grey kitten from Mama’s first litter, Grey Guy, a cat we assumed had died along with the others who all disappeared within a few months. I called Sekhnet, and Grey Guy stood by, waiting with me until she brought a can of food and he ate it from a spoon, like he did as a wee pup.
It was, in fact, Grey Guy. He’d been living a rough life on his own and the years had not been kind. After feeding him a couple of times we saw he was often savage with the other cats and we eventually drove him away. He apparently came back the other day for one last visit before he died.
His presence reminded us how hard life is for a feral cat living on the street. “He came as a harbinger,” Sekhnet said. His poignant farewell came as we are completing the process of domesticating five feral kittens another mother cat dropped off in the garden, introducing them to big-hearted Sekhnet and the greatest cat buffet in the area. Grey Guy’s appearance was a reminder of the short, brutal lives these affectionate little animals face in the wild. At five years-old he was ancient. A house cat typically lives two or three times that long.
We became determined to find homes for these kittens, to give them full lives as beloved pets. The boldest of them (and the runt of the litter) we named Alpha Mouse. He was ready to be a pet right away. His brother Beta was not far behind. Both liked being petted from the start. The other three were wary, as stray cats tend to be. Here’s two shots of Alpha, then Beta:
We found a shelter twenty miles from here that would take them, we caught them and brought them inside, into a large cage Sekhnet bought online. We couldn’t bring them to the shelter for adoption until they are calm and happy being handled by humans. A volunteer at the shelter gave us some good tips, the rest was just time spent with them, petting them in the cage, feeding them by hand, gaining their trust.
The patience and tenderness you need to show to get a feral kitten to trust you is repaid with a tender affection that can’t be explained. The little creature who was afraid to be touched now solicits your caress, cranes her neck to be stroked just right, pushes her little face into the palm of your hand, purring in contentment. They all sit on our laps now, after only a few days of adjustment.
We are doing the right thing trying to find them homes, as hawks continue to circle outside looking for their little tidbits of delicious prey, as all of the hardships that oppose any animal’s existence rage out there at a moment when we humans are also hunted during this pandemic. The right thing, the kind thing, turns out to not be easy sometimes.
I’m waiting for a call back from the small shelter that they have room at the inn for these five (they do). A friend is on hold to do us a tremendous favor, renting a cargo van so we can drive them out to the shelter in their cage tomorrow, rather than stuffing them into the single cat carrier we have for a fairly long trip, their first in a car.
Meanwhile, Alpha sometimes cries and is only consoled by being petted a bit. Sekhnet and I are crying all the time. They are so affectionate with each other, it makes Sekhnet cry every time she thinks of them being separated.
Every moment with them is a reminder of the relentless inevitability of separation, the pain of eternal leave-taking. Having this constant reminder is hard work, particularly during this depressing pandemic, I can tell you for sure. Operation Poignant, I told my friend’s voicemail yesterday, my voice cracking.
Here’s one of the last feral hold-outs, Devilhead, who now likes nothing more than the feeling of human fingers brushing lightly along the underside of her jaws.