Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday scenes and scenery: San Francisco

We do live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. These days, EP and I are hiking diligently, trying to get ourselves in shape for carrying (small) loads later this summer. Mostly, we've stayed in the city or close by. You get the benefit of some local pics, all taken for practice using an iPhone as a primary camera.

Here EP poses next to a vehicle we encountered while heading to an urban trail. It is a good half a decade older than she is.

The grasses on the side of San Bruno Mountain, just south of the city, are extraordinarily colorful right now.

If the local rabbits don't learn to keep under cover, they are in danger of becoming some hawk's dinner.

The city looks magical from this San Bruno trail.

This shot is proof you don't have to leave the city to get a good hike; after an 800 foot climb from the Mission, you can nearly get blown over at the top of Twin Peaks.

Hidden away below the mansions of the Sea Cliff neighborhood, China Beach was once used by Chinese fishing boats, presumably because they weren't much welcome at anchorages in the harbor proper.

Now the beach is administered by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. If you can find it, there is free parking which was half empty on a summer morning. A tai-chi class had taken over the rec center roof.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Republican Senate health insurance atrocity

So rich people can be given a tax cut, poor and sick people must suffer. Unfortunately, it is that simple. GOPers don't care who will be hurt. They act as if they don't really consider the people who will suffer to be human like themselves; those who will lose access to quality medical are to be treated as worthless litter cluttering the playgrounds of the plutocrats.

The smart wonks at the Labor Center at UC Berkeley illustrate the story for this state:
All so Republicans can cut taxes for people who already enjoy more than they need.

There's something broken in the souls of elected officials who would pass this horror.

Friday cat blogging


Nicky and Sadie condescended to pose for their humans' visitors. Lovely, aren't they?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How to win in Georgia

I don't know whether Democrats can win many elections in Georgia at this time, but I am wildly enthusiastic about Stacey Abrams, a contender for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Abrams is currently the House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly and a State Representative. And she's an organizing wonk with a belief in person-to-person campaigns that warms my own wonkish heart.

Abrams insists that what Democrats need in Georgia is a robust field operation -- the capacity to knock on thousands of doors, identify potential sympathetic voters, listen to and talk with them, and get them to the polls. She believes there is a broad coalition to be built, if Dems will only do the work. She knows this takes time, but this -- not screaming TV ads -- is how she plans to succeed

Listen to her interview last night with Rachel Maddow.

If we invest in field, we can close the gap. ... to win a statewide election in Georgia, we have to close a 5 point gap. [By closing a 20 point gap in an historically Republican district, Jon Ossoff demonstrated] it can be done. ... We have voters in Georgia who will vote if we ask.

I'm pretty sure that somewhere, Abrams has a political consultant in her circle who is saying something like: "C'mon -- if you get on the Rachel Maddow show, tell her all the wonderful things your government will do for Georgians ... don't give 'em that campaign math ... that doesn't move voters."

I'd be saying that myself if I were in that role.

But hey, she's right about what Georgia Dems have to do to become a winning force, so you go Ms. Abrams!

For more on Abrams the uniter, see this excellent Joan Walsh story from the Nation magazine.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hold the circular firing squad

Okay, a lot of people's hopes got crushed when Georgia voters chose a hater of Planned Parenthood who has presided over voter suppression regulations instead a generic young white Dem yesterday. The result sucks.

But, as I have been writing since the election: just skip the circular firing squad if you possibly can. Given the assistance the GOPers and the Cheato are throwing their opponents day in and day out, we will eventually get it right.

Meanwhile, some smart observers have been thinking hard about the way forward. I recommend pondering these articles:
  • Franklin Foer at the Atlantic:

    To win again, the Democrats don’t need to adopt an alien agenda or back away from policies aimed at racial justice. But their leaders would be well advised to change their rhetorical priorities and more directly address the country’s bastions of gloom. The party has been crushed—not just in the recent presidential election, but in countless down-ballot elections—by its failure to develop a message that can resonate with people beyond the core members of the Obama coalition, and by its unwillingness to blare its hostility to crony capitalism. Polling by the group Priorities USA Action shows that a stunning percentage of the voters who switched their allegiance from Obama to Trump believe that Democratic economic policies favor the rich—42 percent, nearly twice the number who consider that to be true of Trump’s agenda.

    The makings of a Democratic majority are real. Demographic advantages will continue to accrue to the left. The party needs only to add to its coalition on the margins and in the right patches on the map. Doing that does not require the abandonment of any moral principles; persuasion is a different category of political activity from pandering.

  • Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

    ... it should be sobering to Democrats that a CBS News poll released Tuesday morning filled with devastatingly bad approval numbers for the Trump administration found that only 31 percent of voters thought a Democratic takeover of Congress would make their lives better.

    If your opponents are unpopular enough, it’s certainly possible to win elections this way. But especially for the party that has a more difficult time inspiring its supporters to turn out to vote, that’s an ominous sign. Right now on health care and many other issues, Democrats suffer from a cacophony of white papers and a paucity of unity around any kind of vision or story they want to paint of what is wrong with America today and what is the better country they want to build for the future. And until they do, they’re going to struggle to mobilize supporters in the way they need to win tough races.

  • and Ed Kilgore, that wise Georgian:

    Democrats searching for a silver lining in the Georgia race don’t have to look too far. This is the third consecutive special election (the fourth if you count South Carolina) in a historically Republican district where the Democratic percentage of the vote jumped sharply. Democrats will surely retake the House if the swing in their direction is similarly strong in 2018. In retrospect, ironically, tonight’s results may inspire new respect for Hillary Clinton’s performance–when she came within a point of Donald Trump in this district last November—and provide some new data points for doing well in GOP-leaning districts that resemble GA-06 with its highly educated population.

    As a long-time Georgian, I would add that in my experience Georgia Democrats don’t much show up to vote in special elections, or runoffs, much less special election runoffs. That so many did in this election was a minor miracle. ....

So much goes back to giving a broad enough swath of voters something they'll bestir themselves to vote for. It always does.

Summer solstice

For what it is worth, for some of us, this longest day of the year calls forth an internet-based performance art piece/act of resistance encompassed in the hashtags #MagicResistance and/or #BindTrump.

Here's a descriptive article. Here's a short video of one woman's spell.

I find most of the iconography associated with effort offensive: dopey images of women mixed the visual equivalent of pseudo-medieval mumbo-jumbo. But these artifacts aren't so bad:
All you authentic witches out there, do your thing. But please remember, violence can be loved to extinction by kindness -- it's the only healing way.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Is job lock coming back?

If the Republicans succeed in gutting the protections of Obamacare, here we go again.

Job lock -- the condition of being stuck in an ill-fitting or simply miserable job in order to have health insurance coverage -- will be back for people under 65 who can't be sure they can get good insurance, or any insurance, if they leave their current employer.

This aspect of the US healthcare non-system has always seemed particularly pernicious to me, perhaps because I worked many years in tiny businesses or as an independent contractor, where any insurance I might find was what I could get in the individual market. It's a peculiar historical accident that access to insurance in this country is tied to working for large employers; this quirk seems to have been a perk that employers could use to attract workers during World War II when wages were legally capped and labor was in short supply. And somehow we're still stuck with it.

Obamacare ended the linkage between access to insurance and particular jobs. Insurance may not have become completely affordable, but greater options and regulations on gross profiteering by insurers increased the chance that people could cut loose from unhappy jobs to try something else or to take early retirement.

It's abundantly clear that Republicans don't care about security and free choice for workers -- only about tax cuts for their rich sponsors.

The video is a verbatim recitation by health economist Aaron Carroll of an New York Times Upshot column by Austin Frakt.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Legal eagle sees way forward -- and I agree

Jack Balkin, a distinguished professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School, gave a talk at an alumni luncheon last week. He has written for years about what he calls "constitutional rot," the gradual failure of the U.S. system to preserve its democratic essence against oligarchic trends that crush popular participation and corrupt political actors.

For all his dire, and convincing, vision of regime decay, he's a hopeful guy. Here's his conclusion:

... The regime is crumbling; Trump is the last Reaganite. In the next few election cycles, a new regime will begin, offering the possibility of a new beginning in American politics.

Second, despite the influx of propaganda and the decline of separation of powers in restraining the President, many features of the constitutional system remain robust.  We still have an independent judiciary, a free press, and regular elections.

Third, we should not confuse what's been happening in the past several months with constitutional crisis. Constitutional crisis means that the Constitution is no longer able to keep disagreement within politics; as a result people go outside the law and/or turn to violence or insurrection. However unpleasant our politics may be, all of our current struggles are still within politics.

Fourth, we are headed for a big showdown in electoral politics over the next several election cycles.  One of the two parties will have to find a way to restore trust in government and renounce oligarchical politics.  The next decade will tell the tale. I remain hopeful.

Even if Trump left office tomorrow, and were replaced with Mike Pence, there would still have to be a reckoning over these issues. Indeed, even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, there would still have to be a reckoning ... The United States has failed to reconcile globalization with democracy.  It has not accommodated the demands of republican government to global economic change. This is a serious policy failure, and it has contributed to constitutional rot. The bill for this neglect is coming due. We will have to pay it.

The central question is how to preserve republican government in the face of a changing global  economy.  Trump is a merely symptom of the larger problem. So my advice to you is: keep your eye on the larger issue, and not on the President’s latest tweets.

I believe we will get through this, together. But we have to pay attention to the real sources of constitutional dysfunction, and preserve our republic. ...

Balkin's talk is not technical; I highly recommend reading it all.

Like Balkin, I remain hopeful, though wary and determined after five awful months of the Trump fiasco. (I worry particularly about his third point.) After all, I'm a Californian. People mostly forget these days that, throughout the 1990s, California responded to the terror the majority white electorate felt about demographic change with measure after measure to abuse and keep down immigrants, people of color, and even young people of whatever color with different attitudes. And yet, today, California leads a revolt against national Republican policies that seek to restore outright white supremacy while coddling fossil fuel barons to the detriment of our communities and the climate.

What changed in California? Demographic reality proceeded and people organized for justice and a better government. None of this was easy, nor is any of it complete. But right wing Republicans can't win a toehold in most of this state, the economy is strong if not always equitable, and communities continue to agitate for further reforms.

There is a way forward. Californians have lived a version of it. The republic can yet become what we make it.

Resist and protect much.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My father


It wasn't hard to write about my mother on Mothers' Day. Writing about my father today, about what he might have made of what has happened to his country, is harder.

You see, he was one of those disappointed middle class white men living in a dying rust belt city whose "career" never amounted to much. His father was solidly upper middle class; his siblings were genuinely successful or at least dramatically engaged with their times. My father was the drone of the family. He held respectable low-end middle class white collar jobs which he diligently and loyally performed until the sort of locally-based businesses he worked for disappeared. He was too young (12) to serve in World War I and too old (36) to serve in World War II. His contribution to that great national emergency was in the accounting department of an aircraft production factory.

He did his duty as a (not terribly successful) provider, loved my mother fiercely with a love that was returned, and lived what he thought an unremarkable, honorable life. He was socially awkward, perhaps because he had stuttered as a child and occasionally slipped back into this condition. He dealt with the world by avoiding occasions that required sociability.

He was also intelligent, well read on a few subjects that interested him such as Civil War history, and capable of learning when he wanted to. In retirement, he walked and rode his bicycle about until his advancing blindness led him to run into a parked car. EP describes him as having been "rigid." He knew how he liked to perform the activities of daily living and was uncomfortable with change. As he aged and advanced into the COPD that eventually killed him (in 1991), he became addicted to television. Since he was both progressively more blind and deaf, this meant the TV blared at top volume all day and evening during his last years.

His expressed politics were what I'd call aggressively "grumpy." He thought all politicians (except perhaps a few he'd gone to high school with and maybe even them) were lying crooks. He was a conventional white racist, not hostile, just oblivious. He voted Republican without much thinking about it.

But there was a countervailing side to him. His idea of the right way for a good man to live, was the Jimmy Stewart character in such films as You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It's a Wonderful Life. His idea of a good man was generous and on the side of the little people, always.

So I find myself wondering -- if he'd been alive, would this classic Trump voter have voted for Trump? I do think my mother would have been a countervailing influence. My very existence would also have weighed against such a vote; he respected me and my life without ever making any particular effort to understand the legions of ways in which we differed. If I believed my path was good for me, that was good enough for him.

But Trump's TV persona, his willingness to smash convention, and to express white men's angst at a changing society, would have appealed to him. My father was the sort of guy who might never have told anyone, even my mother, what choice he made in the election, just to keep everyone slightly irritated and off-balance.

I loved him very much.

The photo dates from about 1970, I think. The pipe served him as what he thought a marker of a sort of distinction, as well as enabling him to claim to his parents that he didn't smoke cigarettes, a total fabrication.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saturday scenes and scenery: visitors come to town

The arrival of an out-of-town visitor provided an excuse to take a day wandering on trails overlooking San Francisco Bay. We sometimes say to each other that we live in the most beautiful place in the world.

Hey, what's that swimming out there?

It's not often we see a pod of whales playing inside the Bay! Down at water level on the fishing pier, we were able to get a little closer.

What stunning animals!

When human sailors on the Bay began to circle too closely for a peek, the pod took off for the open ocean.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Republican's "mean" health care bill is a job killer

We know this thing the GOPers in the Senate are cooking up is "mean" (sez the Orange Cheato). Tens of millions will lose health insurance so gazillionaires can have a tax cut. They know ordinary citizens would scream bloody murder if they let us know what's in it, so they are writing it in secret, refuse to hold hearings, and intend to rush it through without any input from the public. This is legislating corruption.
But it is worth noting the Republican bill will also kill jobs in one of the best-functioning sectors of the economy. Several authors from the Center for Health Policy Research in the Department of Health Policy and Management within the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. have studied what the House-passed version of the bill will do to jobs. It's not a pretty picture.

... Coverage and spending-related policies are directly related to funding for health services (e.g., Medicaid, premium tax credits, high-risk pools). The reductions directly affect the health sector—hospitals, doctors’ offices, or pharmacies—but then flow out to other sectors. Thus, about two-fifths of jobs lost due to coverage policies are in the health sector while three-fifths are in other sectors. Tax changes affect consumption broadly, spreading effects over most job sectors. Within the health sector, job losses due to coverage-related cuts are much greater than gains due to tax repeal; losses in health care jobs begin immediately. In other sectors, employment grows at the beginning but later declines.

... Health care has been one of the main areas of job growth in recent years. Under the AHCA, the sector would lose jobs immediately, with a loss of 24,000 jobs in 2018. By 2026, 725,000 fewer health sector jobs would exist. This would be a major reversal from current trends. While our analysis shows other employment sectors grow initially, most other sectors would experience losses within a decade.

... This analysis finds that the net effect of the AHCA would be a loss of almost 1 million jobs by 2026, combined with 23 million more Americans without health insurance, according to the CBO.

Again -- there is no purpose here but for Republicans to give their rich friends a tax cut.

H/t Sarah Kliff for pointing to the study.

Friday cat blogging

Morty made a nest. I forgot to protect the clean laundry from the feline intruder.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Help offered when help is needed

On a walk near San Francisco's iconic Golden Gate Bridge, we noted this sign.

I had to wonder: do to prospective suicidal jumpers really text the counseling service? Apparently they do.

Last year, KQED News reported:

At a Golden Gate Bridge District Board of Directors meeting in August, officials revealed an alarming statistic: The number of people under the age of 25 showing up at the bridge intending to commit suicide has increased fivefold since 2000. Bridge and California Highway Patrol officers stop most of them, but they still need more help. On average, two to three people jump each month. The majority of the suicides are people under the age of 35.

So bridge officials partnered with Crisis Text Line to publicize this resource.

The Golden Gate Bridge District has recorded more than 120 successful suicide interventions so far this year [in September 2016]. But [Bridge Patrol Capt. Lisa] Locati says she could definitely use more staff — there can be thousands of people on the bridge at one time, and she currently oversees 31 people. In the meantime, she hopes the text line will help them make even more interventions.

“When Crisis Text Line approached us, they had already had — without any advertising — texting conversations with people that have mentioned coming to the bridge to commit suicide,” Locati says.

“Before we formed the partnership, we already had 94 conversations in which people have mentioned the Golden Gate Bridge,” confirms Libby Craig, Bay Area director of Crisis Text Line. “And we do have stories of people who were at the ledge and were back in their homes by the end of a conversation.”

I saw someone jump once. It was the ultimate in irretrievable meaninglessness. Let's hope this resource clicks for those who need it.
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