Monday, July 4, 2022

Declaration of Divorce

In despair, July 4, 2022

The reluctant declaration of the twenty five or so blue states of America:

This isn't working out. And sometimes, you know, in the course of human events, people just gotta go their separate ways, and set up the kind of government that suits them best. We’re sure you could see this coming, but we do need to explain it, for the benefit of the neighbors as well as you folks in the red states.

This part is obvious, to us at least: we’re all born equal, right? And for us that means our queer kids, our immigrant kids, our daughters as well as our sons. It means folks of every religion, and folks with no fucking religion. It means people of every damn ethnicity. We’ve been over this before. And people ought to be able to live their lives as they see fit, and have a government that protects their rights, that lets folks do what makes them happy. We want a government that reflects the consent of the governed, and we’re not getting that anymore.

The form of government we are stuck with now is destroying our hope for a secular, multiracial democracy. We’ve been working for that for a long time, and it’s pretty clear you’re not into it. We’ve had some big-ass fights over the years, at Fort Sumter as well as in Selma; in Seneca Falls and at Stonewall, and we just want different things. That bullshit in DC last year made it obvious: we have irreconcilable differences, and we need to split up, for the sake of the kids.

We’ve got the right to form a government that will suit our needs, and the system we’re in now gives you too much power to fuck with us. You take the White House when we outvote you, you take the Senate when we outvote you, you pack the Courts when we outvote you, and you’ve made it clear you don't want to stop there. We could keep having elections, but you obviously won't accept the results if we win, and frankly, we can’t accept what will happen if you win. It’s time to move on.

We know our rights. We should be able to set up our own government, one that will keep us safe and healthy, let everyone live how they please. We have the right to self-government, and frankly, so do you. So we’re leaving. We’re taking Wall Street, Hollywood and Silicon Valley with us; you never liked them anyway. You’re gonna get most of the oil and coal and farmland. If you don’t like it, talk to our attorneys and work out the details, but let’s not fight anymore.

This is no trivial disagreement. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t have good reasons. We had some good times, and we’re always gonna love you, but we can’t do this anymore. If there was a way to work this out, believe us, we would. We’d keep putting up with you until we couldn’t stand it anymore, but that’s where we’re at right now. It’s an abusive relationship; in fact there’s been a long train of abuses. And you intend to keep usurping more power for your side until you have your boot on our damn necks. So we don’t just have the right, we have the duty to stand up for ourselves and say: no more.

We’ve been patient with you, we’ve tried negotiating with you, we’ve tried contesting elections and sharing power with you, and you just want to take all the fucking marbles. You folks won’t stop until you’ve established a tyranny over us, a minority government that absolutely dominates both red states and blue. Look, the whole world can see your bullshit for themselves:

  • You stand in the way of the laws we need to promote the public good. We pass laws in the House of Representatives that are urgent and necessary –  to protect the environment, voting rights, women’s rights, civil rights – and you keep blocking them in the Senate.

  • Our Senators represent tens of millions more people than your Senators, but you insist on using supermajority rules to maintain control. And when you control the Senate, you block us from appointing our fair share to the Judiciary.

  • Now that you’ve taken over the Supreme Court by gaming the system, you impose your will on all of us. You deny the blue states the right to regulate gun safety, but grant the red states the right to regulate women’s bodily autonomy.

  • Your Court tears down the wall of separation between church and state, insults the sovereignty of our indigenous tribes, allows corporations both foreign and domestic to corrupt our elections, destroys the Voting Rights Act that Dr. King fought and died for, and compromises our ability to regulate the fossil fuel emissions that are strangling our children’s future prosperity.

  • Now your Court threatens to take away our democracy entirely, by removing the rights of the people to vote your asses out of office. If they give red states the ability to override the consent of the governed in presidential elections, and substitute the will of a gerrymandered state legislature subject to no checks and balances, it’s game over for us.

  • Your red state legislatures have no respect for democracy. We all saw what happened in Wisconsin and Kentucky, when the people elected Democratic governors and the legislature turned around and fucking stripped them of their powers! Your continued willingness to usurp the people’s sovereignty is intolerable.

  • Your red state governors have no respect for federal laws. They work to run their own immigration policy. They work to suppress the votes of minority communities. They work to destroy the institution of free public education.

  • Red states won’t stop at removing the rights of women to plan when and whether to have children; they want to prevent women from traveling to blue states where those rights are respected. They want to prevent folks in blue states from informing women of the information they need to control their futures, from delivering to women the medication they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies. None of this is constitutional – for now. But you’ve made it plain that you want judges dependent on your will alone.

  • We fought a Civil War that settled the idea of whether you could nullify federal law, keep other humans in bondage, or ignore the freedoms granted to all of us by the Bill of Rights. You fought for another hundred years, using terrorist militias and crooked judges, to deny the implementation of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. When we passed implementing laws like the Voting Rights Act, you worked sixty years to destroy them. You simply don’t see human rights the same way we do.

  • Twice in this century, that ridiculous Electoral College system has given us presidents that the majority of us voted against. Maps drawn hundreds of years ago give you more power than you deserve in the Senate, and maps drawn by computers have made less than a quarter of the seats in the House subject to contested elections. Maps drawn in the red states prevent the people from voting you out. You use your minority power to pack the courts and deny us liberty and justice for all. We keep proposing reforms that would make this system work better for all of us, but you have no incentive to change, and you prefer minority rule. We don’t. We fucking don’t. We won’t accept it, going forward.

  • Seriously, red state folks. The last time you lost an election, you would not abide by the will of the people. Your unelected president refused the peaceful transfer of power. He filed dozens of baseless lawsuits, threatened public servants, spread odious lies, and still could not prevail. So he conspired with red state allies to file fraudulent electoral certificates, pressured his Vice President to accept them and had crooked legislators ready to ratify this transparent busllshit. And when that too failed he summoned up private terrorist militias to invade the seat of government, to violently and unlawfully overthrow our duly elected government. The whole world saw this happen.

  • And finally, as if that weren’t enough: you won't stop there. You keep making excuses for this bloodthirsty tyrant and his failed insurrection. You will try again and won’t stop until you have usurped control over all three branches and then, quite obviously, you will game the system so that you cannot lose another election. We can see you working to achieve this. You are not fucking subtle about it; you make your plans openly. You don’t accept our democracy, you never have and you never will.

At every stage of this game we have been willing to work with you. We’ve offered plenty of compromises on the issues that divide us, and many of our leaders have humbly petitioned for bipartisanship. Instead we’ve had the hand of friendship slapped away. And so the divisions between us have worsened with every election cycle. Your repeated and obvious insults to democracy mark you as unfit to rule over a free people. We want out.

You can’t say we didn’t warn you. We’ve complained that you are dangerously out of line, and that we won’t put up with minority rule. We’ve gone over it before, how we got to this point, from the compromises in Philadelphia to the March on Washington, and how we are not going back.

And friends, we have carried you for too long. We have shared our bounty with you. Where you insist on keeping wages low, communities powerless, corporations unfettered, you have reaped the whirlwind of higher poverty, earlier mortality, more disease, fewer educated. We keep sending you federal dollars to help. You have accepted our welfare and we have provided it magnanimously, paying out to DC far more than we get back. In essence: We have the taxation, and you have the representation. But our assistance, based on our common kinship, isn’t enough anymore. You’ve got us backed into a corner now.

We, today, recognize the need to separate, and we hold you red states as we do other countries: friends in peace, but if need be, enemies in war. We know you may well want to fight us if we walk away, that you won’t give up wanting to dominate us, continue taking from us and bullying us. We the people have fought tyranny before: at Yorktown, at Gettysburg, at Normandy, and also on the streets of Birmingham. You may well prevail this time, or you may not. But if we fight again we are going to fucking kill each other, in large numbers.

There's another path available. The people of Czechoslovakia, unlike their neighbors in Yugoslavia, were able to negotiate a peaceful divorce. Let’s take ten years to figure out our borders, a fair and beneficial trade agreement, a proportionate division of federal properties we have all invested in, and some sort of military treaty. 

There are going to be millions of people in your states who will be unhappy to live in your version of Red State America, and there will likewise be millions of our citizens unsatisfied with the government that Blue State America sees fit to create. Let ‘em vote with their feet. Let’s allow unfettered migration between our regions while we work out the details of our partition. Let‘s help them relocate, so they can live where they can best pursue their happiness. And maybe we’ll see whose system can best deliver that happiness.

Partition is wrenching and painful, but it’s better than civil war. Even if we can pull it off, we will be creating a whole new set of problems to deal with, both within and between our new countries. Hopefully our two governments can get along. We may yet come to blows, but we hope you might instead heed the example of the white minority of South Africa, who came to realize that the path of minority rule, and subjugation of the will of the majority, was a path of mutually assured destruction, of endless bloodshed in which they were unlikely to prevail. 

But we need you to figure that out on your own now, because we’re done with you. We know how you are, and you’re not going to be allowed to continue fucking us over.

Now, therefore, the representatives of the future Democratic Republic of America, based on the will of the people and their elected representatives, appealing to whatever deity folks choose to worship regarding the rectitude of this plan, do solemnly publish and declare, that these blue states are and damn well ought to be free and independent to determine their own destiny, and that after July 4, 2032 we will no longer be bound by the 1787 Constitution of the United States, and that any and all political connection between them and the future Confederate States of America (or whatever you want to end up calling yourselves) is and damn well ought to be totally obliterated, and that we will be a free and independent state, able to wage war, negotiate peace, join alliances of like-minded democracies, trade with whom we please, levy sanctions on regimes that have no respect for human rights, and do anything else a free and sovereign people have the right to do, and know that in support of this here divorce letter, we are willing to put our blood, our treasure and our reputations on the line.

PS: Don’t expect any fucking alimony!

With love, 

Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and by all rights, Georgia too, but we’ll swap you for North Carolina. Call our attorney.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Watching the River Flow

Note: A shorter version of this article appears in the excellent online publication Journal of the Plague Year, which deserves your readership and support. This "director's cut" includes passages on Tucson's response to the Black Lives Matter protests and the restoration of our ancient river habitat.

For years, the beleaguered liberals of Arizona joked that we couldn’t even be best at being worst: the state was consistently ranked 49th out of the 50 states in education and not much better in most of the other indices of a civilized middle-class existence. “Hey, we’re better than Alabama!” we’d comfort ourselves.  

This week, our state finally broke out: On July 7, Arizona had the most COVID-19 infections per capita of any state -- i

n fact, the most in the world if Arizona was stacked up against countries instead of states. We were, finally, number one. 

We have stayed in the to

p slot for the past three days, with 117,000 cases by Friday and more than 2,000 deaths. The state’s hospitals are overwhelmed. Front-line medical workers were posting accounts on social media that were indistinguishable from the harrowing stories from New York in March.

I live in Tucson, where out-of-control suburban sprawl has pushed the population close to the one million mark. Yet in many ways, Tucson is still a small town. A few years back I went to get my blood drawn and was surprised to find my fellow local cartoonist Max Cannon wielding the needle. His darkly funny strip Red Meat ("the most tasteless and twisted comic in the world") had been syndicated to alternative weeklies and once upon a time, his animated show "Shadow Rock" was on Comedy Central. But as the creative class took a nosedive, he was probably damn glad to have a day job.

Two weeks ago Max sent out a harrowing account on Facebook: “We risk ourselves and our family's health each day by doing this work. We watch our coworkers get infected. And we experience much worse,” he wrote.

“The hospital has rationed our personal protective equipment. One single (previous-to-this-pandemic) disposable N-95 mask is supposed to last us for months now. Mine doesn't even fit my face because they only have two sizes available. A number of physicians are buying their own PPE if it is available in a hospital grade quality and is even available for purchase, which I can attest from experience is not easily obtainable despite the products you see on Amazon or elsewhere. Supplies of sterilizing cleaning products are running disturbingly low.”

Max noted, presciently, that “the situation is about to go from very, very bad to unimaginably worse.”

And now that day has come. As of Monday, there were only 11 intensive care beds available in the entire Tucson metropolitan area, home to over a million people. For weeks we’ve had Yuma sending patients to Tucson, Tucson sending them to Phoenix, anywhere a spare bed can be scrounged up. Now patients are being shipped out of state, to Albuquerque, San Diego or Las Vegas.


Charles Bowden, the state’s uncrowned Nonfiction Prose Laureate, once wrote of Arizona: “Here is a land of aching beauty and the people always fail the land.” In other words, the disaster in Arizona isn’t a statistical fluke. Yet Arizona could be—just maybe—the state that turns the Senate blue. Because we’re not crazy. Not all of us. Really. It just seems that way.

 Like most Western states, much of Arizona is federal land—parks, wildlife refuges. That’s indirectly linked to the region’s tradition of small government, conservative politics: “We don’t want no stinkin’ federal gummint tellin’ us what to do.” But that’s the old Arizona.

This week, in an interview with Rachel Maddow, Pima County health director Teresa Cullen admonished the host that Arizona can’t be reduced to a stereotype. Pima County, is in many ways, a snapshot of the state, she explained, with more than one million people living in rural, semi-rural, and urban areas, including two American Indian reservations. “We’re a very eclectic group in terms of the country,” Cullen said gently, but pointedly.

Most of the state’s population lives in the two major cities: Tucson and Phoenix. In a rivalry akin to the way San Franciscans used to look down on Los Angeles, Tucson is a university town, and likes to think of itself as the hipper, cooler younger sibling to Phoenix. But Phoenix contains 60 percent of the state’s population. The important Phoenicians are the good old boys, traditionally real estate developers, who run the place. And Phoenix votes Republican. That’s the conventional wisdom and it’s almost always true.

This is how the former CEO of a chain of premium ice cream stores ended up handling the Covid-19 pandemic. Doug Ducey, Arizona’s GOP governor since 2015, has the look of a perpetually overwhelmed middle manager and a business record disturbingly reminiscent of Donald Trump’s. As CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, his aggressive expansion ended with franchisees racking up nearly a 30% default rate on Small Business Administration loans, the fourth worst in the nation.

Ducey got out before the company before the bill came due. As treasurer, he helped the right-wing,libertarian Koch brothers defeat an education funding initiative in 2012. Two years later, they poured $1.4 million into his gubernatorial campaign. Now there are rumors he’d like to be a senator, but his mishandling of the coronavirus may end his political career.

Perhaps it was Ducey’s business career that primed him for the nation’s worst Covid disaster. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Ducey issued a patchwork of executive orders to deal with the pandemic in mid-March. Schools were shut down for a few weeks, and later, the shutdown was extended for the rest of the term. The governor ordered bars, theaters, and gyms closed on March 19, after many mayors had already done so. At that point, there were 45 cases of Covid-19 in the state of Arizona.

Four days later, Ducey issued what amounted to loopholes for “essential services” that would stay open if the state shut down. The list included payday lenders, hair salons, laundromats and golf courses -- but only in counties with active cases, a list that changed from day to day. Eventually, Ducey was forced to issue a shutdown order, but it didn’t last long. 

As early as April 17, alarmed at the economic fallout, the president began tweeting demands to “liberate” the states from shutdown. Ducey, along with other red-state governors, fell in line, announcing a partial reopening to begin May 4. On May 12, he lifted his shutdown order, with little leeway or guidance for the more stricken areas. Ducey also prevented mayors from issuing any facemask orders.

As the reopening began, the state was poised at just under 12,000 cumulative cases. Freedom-loving Arizonans immediately began acting like the virus was gone for good, flocking to bars, malls and casinos, while Romero and other mayors were helpless to intervene.

When the lockdown was unconditionally lifted, in the middle of May, we were just hitting a streak of triple-digit temperatures that sent stir-crazy crowds to the air-conditioned comfort of Applebee’s and Fuddruckers, unmasked and oblivious. Still: worse than Florida? That’s some kind of achievement. Maybe it’s the higher proportion of Native Americans, and the institutional racism that has condemned the Navajo Nation to malign neglect, that has given us the edge, along with the ratfuck crazy black helicopter paranoia endemic to the American West that shifts anti-vaxxers into anti-maskers without grinding the gears.

The inevitable spike began after Memorial Day. By July 6, the state had topped 100,000 total cases, poised on the brink of the kind of catastrophe seen in Italy and New York. Ducey still has not reinstated shutdown orders, and while bars and gyms are closed, restaurant dining rooms remain open. Our ICUs are almost at full capacity and cases continue to rise. As our community is flooded beyond existing levees, recrimination will be as inevitable as the bodies stacked in hallways.


Arizona is mirroring the nation’s breakdown. The chief executive is malevolently incompetent and it is the female mayors of Phoenix and Tucson, both Democrats, who are fighting to save lives. But their authority is limited, and without support from Ducey, their efforts haven’t been sufficient to stop the spread. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego told the news media on Friday that the county medical examiner’s office was at 96 percent capacity and that officials were working to “secure a contract for refrigerator trucks.” Not for the first time, she pressed Gov. Ducey to institute a statewide mask requirement.

Since the pandemic took hold, the political math in Arizona has changed. The Senate race has narrowed between Republican Martha McSally, who is close to Donald Trump, and Democratic candidate Mark Kelly, a former astronaut married to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, whose shooting is still fresh in the minds of people who live in the state. Kelly’s candidacy has attracted national support, and without opportunities for rallies and face-to-face interactions, he can outspend his rival. In Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, Kelly leads McSally in the polls by 18 percent.

Bill Clinton won Arizona by a narrow margin the second time he ran for president, marking what Democrats hoped would be a change in the state’s politics. But when times get tough, Arizona, a boom and bust state, reverts to its traditional ways.

When unemployment claims spiked off the charts at the end of March, Regina Romero had been Tucson’s mayor for only four months. A former city council member, she’s the first female mayor, and the first Hispanic mayor in nearly 150 years. Never an economic powerhouse, Tucson’s main employers involve education, military spending, prisons, local governments, health care and big-box retailers (not coincidentally, most of these are vectors for the efficient spread of airborne virus particles). The median income here is around $50,000, well below the national average -- or the state average, for that matter. And the economy, recovering from the housing crisis, had just gotten going again before it was shut down.

Once, not that long ago, Tucson’s downtown was so deserted that a lone horseman rode undisturbed past the statue of Pancho Villa on his rearing stallion, the past and the present crossing paths as if in that moment between sleep and wakefulness when dream and reality are indistinguishable. Then Tucson was discovered. For the past few years, construction cranes have adorned the skyline, building new high-rise hotels and apartments, and road crews have been busy widening freeway interchanges and arterials.

            What fueled the downtown building boom was a four-mile light rail line snaking from the University of Arizona to the west bank of the Santa Cruz River. Height limits were relaxed in an effort to encourage density along the route, and since its launch in 2014, the streetcar line has attracted over $1 billion in investment, with new bars and restaurants popping up regularly. A  cohort of office workers and trust-fund students replaced the bohemian atmosphere that flourished when rents were low. But even as it rebuilt, Tucson seemed to be looking over its shoulder, anticipating the next crash.

Now, of course, many of the restaurants are shuttered (or limited to takeout), and Ducey just closed bars again (though not restaurants) statewide. The highrise apartments were meant to house college students, who may well be studying online in their hometowns this term. The new hotels targeted conventioneers and tourists, but those bookings have all been cancelled. And the new lanes were budgeted in anticipation of ever-increasing demand for automobile traffic, an assumption that started to look questionable even in the before times. It looks now like we were rebuilding a city that belonged to a different time, and may need to go back to the drawing board.


The poverty rate before the crash was around a quarter of the city, about double the nationwide statistic, and a good ten points above Arizona’s rate. The numbers now are anyone’s guess, but much of Tucson, like most of America, was just a paycheck or two away from being broke. The tension of sheltering with laid-off family members was bad enough before George Floyd was publicly executed on May 25. Just as in cities nationwide, a spontaneous burst of frustration included acts of vandalism and property destruction early on, but protests have continued on a mostly peaceful basis, with relatively few arrests.

The city responded with a commitment to policing reform, though an ordinance limiting the filming of police within the boundaries of a crime scene  (since repealed) drew nationwide criticism. Mayor Romero stated on May 30 that “This week has tapped into a deep and generational pain rooted in a long history of iniquity and oppression." The police chief, Chris Magnus, condemned the “indefensible use of force” by Minneapolis police officers. But what Tucson didn’t know was that on the day George Floyd died, Carlos Ingram-Lopez had already been dead for a month.

Video footage of his April 21 arrest shows TPD officers kneeling on the back of the handcuffed suspect, who complained with the words “I can’t breathe.” The three officers involved were initially cleared in the death, with cocaine being blamed for the suspect’s cardiac arrest. But later investigation showed they had violated department standards, and all of them resigned before they could be fired. Chief Magnus acknowledged that his department had not notified the community of the suspect’s death, and when the video surfaced, he offered to resign.

But neither the mayor or city manager, or even the suspect’s family, accepted his resignation. Magnus, one of the nation’s first open gay police chiefs, is generally well regarded in the community. He’s known for his commitment to policing reform and for supporting Black Lives Matter from its inception. When he said he had not seen the video until recently, many were willing to take him at his word -- though on July 8, TPD released the results of its internal probe of another death of yet another suspect, restrained and gasping the familiar complaint “I can’t breathe.” Demands for further transparency are sure to follow.

Mayor Romero, who had hung a BLM banner from City Hall, has largely escaped repercussions for the incident, as it seems she was kept in the dark. But last week, she managed to antagonize police supporters by reversing the city manager’s decision to allow a symbolic “thin blue line” to be painted in front of police headquarters. Based on a couple of genuinely offensive Facebook posts, she labelled the originator of the request as a “white supremacist,” and refused to allow the painting, to the outrage of other supporters.

  Police argued that a huge Black Lives Matter slogan had been painted just a few blocks away on the same city street. The city attorney ruled that neither of them, or any political slogan, should be allowed to be painted on city streets. But that has hardly defused the ire of the pro-police advocates, and now calls for Romero’s resignation or recall have arisen. However minor a controversy compared to the enormity of our other crises, it’s managed to put a tense community further on edge.


Down by the Santa Cruz River, you can escape that tension for a while, watching the wildlife return to the ancient channel. The Santa Cruz is flowing through the heart of Tucson once again, even if it’s not quite the same river that first attracted human settlement here ten thousand years ago. The Santa Cruz vanished as a year-round river around mid-century, after farming and mining upstream had sucked it dry. Since then, Tucson grew from around 75,000 thirsty residents to over a million, putting additional strain on the ancient aquifer.

But the ghost of our river has returned. Starting in 1993, water has been pumped in from the Colorado River, 364 miles away, gradually replenishing the groundwater. Of course, the coal-fired plant needed to power those pumps helped diminish the snowmelt necessary to keep the Colorado flowing, but maybe we can divert some extra from the flooded fields of the Midwest to keep that going.

Starting about a year ago, the security of that water supply allowed Tucson to begin recharging 3 million gallons a day of treated effluent into the Santa Cruz. It wasn’t much of a river -- galumphing in south of downtown, and trickling out again a few miles north -- but riparian habitat started to return, literally within days. Dozens of varieties of dragonflies, three native toad species, and a birdwatcher’s dream of egrets, herons, and kingfishers -- even an errant pelican -- swiftly arrived.

After eight months, though, the river became a victim of its own success. Rising groundwater levels threatened to seep into retired landfills nearby, possibly leaching dangerous toxins into our water supply. So the river was shut down again, and bulldozers cleared out the nascent vegetation in order to help the water flow more efficiently, without pooling up and overfilling the aquifer. Wildlife scattered away again as the channel was resculpted to better cohabit with the city.

Finally, last week, the earthmoving equipment moved out and the ghost river returned. Once again, the flora and fauna have rebounded, hopefully for the long term. And that’s exactly how Tucson is flowing haphazardly into the next decade -
robbing Peter to pay Paul, depleting our resources, jury-rigging plans that only create new problems. The overlapping national crises of the Covid, the crash and the cops may yet be resolved, but there’s no going back to the way it used to be. But if the fallout from this crisis sweeps some new leadership into office, we have the chance to begin a restoration, just like the one beginning on the banks of the Santa Cruz.