Monday, November 12, 2018

Taking Banksy's advice today

The long campaign season and returning to a city filled with smoke leave me pooped. I need a day off. Back as soon as energy returns. It will; it always has.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

On Armistice Day

As we mark the 100th anniversary of what its contemporaries knew as "the Great War" (World War I), I realize that I belong to the last generation which carries a live memory of people who survived that scarcely imaginable catastrophe. In 1914, Europe seemed on a path toward increased globalization and "modern" living -- a path from which it was derailed by carnage, at least through 1945 and perhaps more accurately through 1989. Within four years, a 19th century vision of "infinite progress" had been obliterated, 20 million soldiers and civilians were dead, and long established political polities had been swept away while novel, usually unstable, entities had been created.

... the last [US?] World War I veteran died in 2012. ... if Europe’s motto after World War II was “never again,” the lesson of World War I is “it could happen again.”

Katrin Bennhold, New York Times

To honor this anniversary, I want to call attention to a previous blog post.

Somewhat improbably, I was raised near an uncle, Stevan Idjidovic (who adopted the last name "Stevens" for the benefit of his English speaking relatives) who had served as a Serbian child soldier in that war. He told his wild story in a little memoir titled Snows of Serbia. This provides an intimate portrait of hardship and accidental survival that is still gripping. Here's how war came to his ethnically Serbian village which happened to be located within what were then Austro-Hungary's borders:

We could not understand why they were burning our Serbian village; we had been loyal subjects of the Empire for generations. "They are going to kill us," repeated Cika Krana .... We were all terrified by the realization that the village was being put to the torch and the people were being shot by our own soldiers. ...

... I happened to be the only male of adult size in the group. "You, come here!" I heard the Croat sergeant speak, his gaze fixed on me. As I was about to step forward I heard Mother plead "Oh don't, please don't," as she clutched my arm. I was afraid to step forward but realized I had no alternative. I broke loose from Mother’s grip and stepped forward facing the sergeant. He was about my height with blond hair and a well-groomed mustache, his steely blue eyes fixed on me. "What are you?" he demanded sternly, meaning what nationality was I. I was on the point of telling the truth but checked myself; I kept silent, realizing he wanted me to say, "I am a Serb".

... His rage was mounting and, raising his right hand, he struck a savage blow on my left ear. "This will teach you how to obey."

With my back turned to the soldiers, I walked away slowly and apprehensively. About halfway to the street corner a rifle shot rang out behind me and I stopped dead in my tracks. A bullet whizzed by me hitting the soft road ahead of me, raising the dust. I assumed it was meant for me, but why had it missed? I wheeled around. Instantly I learned that the bullet was not intended for me. There on the road I saw my father staggering slowly in my direction, bent over in pain.

Fourteen year old Stevan then escaped to Serbian army lines by swimming across the River Sava:

... I discarded everything except my underwear and my broad brimmed hat. This done I wasted no time and plunged into the cold water. ... I had hardly swum two hundred feet from shore when I heard the crack of rifle shots close by. ...

... It is said of the dying, or of a man about to die, that they experience flashes of memories of their whole life. Nothing of the sort happened to me. On the contrary, I was thinking of how my body would be eaten by the fishes. The volleys of bullets continued to splash around me. ...

Observing the [Serbian] shore as I came closer, I shuddered at an unbelievable sight. In the calm waters of the bend the current had deposited hundreds of bodies of Serbian soldiers who had fallen at the battle of Cevrntija two weeks earlier. Frightfully bloated and closely packed, the bridge of bodies extended out from the shore some twenty feet. There was no stench that I noticed, but the bodies did create a barrier to reaching the shore. ... With my head above the surface I figured the only way out of this was to dive underneath the bodies and go for the shore. Holding my breath I submerged and propelled myself slowly toward shore till my hands were digging into mud below and my back was feeling the weight of the bodies above. Heaving up through the bodies, I frantically pushed myself toward the bank and into a thicket of willows. I felt exhausted.

While catching my breath I wondered whether I had really made it. Having disturbed the closely packed balance of the corpses, I saw a few drift loose and begin their journey down the river. I was still lying hidden with my face buried in the willow thicket, trying to regain my strength, when a commanding voice boomed down from above me. “Come on up here!”

Stevan's story both illuminates how entrenched ethnic nationalist conflicts in the Balkans might persist to this day -- and illustrates the mad, meaningless serendipity which determines who lives once war tears civilized society into pieces.
Though today marks the end of World War I in western Europe, we would do well to remember that the armistice on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour, meant less than nothing in eastern and central Europe. The hostilities unleashed by the fall of the Austrian and Russian empires escalated for years in those regions. Robert Gerwarth tells that story in The Vanquished.
And then there is that unhappy region we in the US and Europe call "the Middle East." The victorious European powers cut up the fragments of the Ottoman Empire, established "nations" defined more by lines on maps than affinities, began the process of implanting a Jewish state in land long occupied by indigenous others, and generally created a cauldron of seething enmities that persist still today. World War I never ended there either; and we scarcely noticed.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Can you see Sutro Tower through the haze?

I had hoped for a quiet recuperative weekend ... resuming Walking San Francisco while snapping photos.

But such was not to be. Smoke from the wildfires makes being outside intolerable, bringing on drippy eyes, a burning throat, and running nose.

Saturday scenery: Reno is beautiful

Amidst the intensity and anxiety of a political campaign, it was easy to forget this truth about our surroundings.

Until the last three hectic weeks, E.P. and I ran laps around this lovely human-made pond, saying good morning to the resident egrets.

The pond is a hidden gem.

On 90+F degree days in September, it was hard to credit the posted warnings to "stay off the ice." But by the end of campaign season, mornings were in the 20s. And the pond was still lovely.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Friday cat blogging

Morty's fans will be glad to know that he let us into the house on our return from Reno, though he still appears a little perturbed by the reappearance of his delinquent servants. Who are these people to think they can make me swallow my blood pressure meds?

The zombie lives

It was supposed to be dead by now. But it is worth pointing out that from last week until December 15, enrollment is open for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The Kaiser Family Foundation hosts a free calculator that lays out available options and costs for people purchasing insurance through the health insurance "marketplaces."

Meanwhile, Idaho, Utah and Nebraska voters may have elected Republican representatives, but they also voted to expand Medicaid to their needy populations under the federal program.

The notion that the government has a responsibility to provide some sort of access to health care is taking root. Democrats ran on this radical proposition in many forms in different areas -- and out-polled fear and racism by a national seven percent majority.

Next job: make healthcare availability universal and affordable.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The impact of our campaign in Reno came as a surprise ...

Washoe County Registrar of Voters, Deanna Spikula, said the midterm turnout in the Reno area far exceeded the 55 percent to 65 percent rate her department expected based on previous elections. Washoe County logged a 70.1 percent turnout rate.

“Over 70 percent turnout is just an incredible midterm for us,” she said.

Nevada Independent

Shows what can happen if campaigns devote resources to talking with people who are eligible to vote but who have not formed the voting habit. Most of those people are low income, of color, and/or young. Our folks count too.

Jacky Rosen victory speech

Still enjoying having played a part in electing this woman to the US Senate from Nevada. I seldom watch politicians speaking -- it's seldom a rewarding exercise. But my UniteHERE/Culinary Workers union teammates saw this live on election night and insisted I should watch. It's a little long; but hey, I got to cut her some slack since she'd just won a tough election.

The best parts is when she reminisces about working as a cocktail waitress at a casino to put herself through college -- and points out that same casino is the location of this victory party she is addressing.

I also liked seeing her warm relationship with the women who'd been her team.

May this Democratic Senator have a long, fruitful career sticking up for the working people of her state.

Give the video a whirl if curious.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

They stayed and they voted ...

Yesterday in Nevada, our candidates, new US Senator Jacky Rosen and new Governor Steve Sisolak, swept to victory by wide margins. A surge of determined voters in the last three hours kept the polls open long after the official closing as those in line at 7pm were allowed to cast ballots.

Mobilized by the Culinary Workers Union which represents workers in the hospitality/gaming industry, the state's diverse low wage working population made their own blue wave in Las Vegas. We did our bit through the union UniteHERE in the Reno area. It was a great day in Nevada for the people make the beds, do the laundry, and cook your breakfasts.

Time for me to get one of those breakfasts ... more on a tough election when I've had more sleep.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Thoughts for Election Day

Thoughts for a long election day.

"... I think the closest thing to defining 'American' is a false sense of safety."

Poet Javier Zamora

From an always irritating commentator who occasionally offers wisdom:

"The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, 'The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.' We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do."

Andrew Sullivan

There are historical parallels:

“In South Africa, they used to say, ‘Only a dying mule kicks the hardest.’ So that’s what you are seeing.”

the Rev. William Barber

Lest we forget:

"We should vote as if our lives depend on it. Maybe they do."

Christine Emba

Monday, November 05, 2018

On Tuesday, cast your vote for hope and against ignorance

A friend who works with the Central American human rights organization Cristosal writes about the scary "caravan" of the desperate:

In these final hours before Election Day, the Trump Administration and many Republican candidates will continue to flood the media with racist lies about people coming to our border seeking asylum. These lies make it all about danger to "us" and obscure what is going on in Central America that so many people would choose to flee their homes and undertake a dangerous journey to our increasingly hostile border.

These lies obscure the complex, historical reasons why people flee--reasons rooted in decades- and centuries-long issues of inequity and impunity now exacerbated by a multi-year drought in the region. These lies also obscure basic facts of international law and human rights recognized in the 1948 International Declaration of Human Rights: that all people have the right to migrate and to seek safety and asylum when their own government fails to protect them. 

Many even sensible people are buying into these lies, e.g., the lies that the Democrats and/or George Soros are paying people to join caravans to "destroy America." That the caravans are full of gang members and possibly even hidden ISIS or other Islamist terrorists coming here to kill us. That these are s*$#(!!% people from s*$#(!!% countries, unworthy to join us.

People are believing the lies that the caravans represent a dangerous new flood of people when in fact the numbers joining the caravans are on a par with those leaving the region monthly for the past several years, and there is great attrition along the way. The lies that a band of mostly extremely poor families, the majority women and children, with a few belongings in a plastic grocery bag or a school backpack, represent a national security risk that requires sending 15,000 U.S. troops to the border at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars that could be much better spent on non-militaristic solutions.

By making it all about danger to "us," these politically motivated lies obscure the truth that the people joining the caravans are by and larger some of the poorest, most vulnerable people in our hemisphere ...

Are we really so frightened we can't see weak and vulnerable people for who they are? Apparently the GOP hopes so ...

Sunday, November 04, 2018

What it is really like to work on a election: campaigns are ecological disaster areas

In order to stay organized, you must throw out materials that have become obsolete -- rap sheets, no-longer usable early voting door hangers, boxes the literature came in, turf notes. Out! Every day.

In order to keep going, everyone must be fed and watered (and soda-ed). We create 4 and 5 and 6 monster trash bags of food-associated garbage, everyday.

In order to stay healthy, we clean the bathrooms of paper towels and other effluvia -- more than once a day.

No wonder landlords aren't thrilled to rent to campaigns. We do what we have to do.

Criminal drug pushing

From the New York Times. Evidently the GOPers are willing to kill off the communities that support their diseased party to nudge up the profits of the drug companies. Vote these sickos out on Tuesday!

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Crunch time

Volunteers pour into Reno today to do their bit to get out the vote for Jacky Rosen for US Senate. Early voting has ended and, if people voted their party tendencies, she is ahead. But there is a lot of pavement pounding yet to go in preparation for Election Day.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Who's afraid of who?

My new friend Roy Eidelson who has come to work on the UniteHERE Reno campaign to help flip a Senate seat shares a psychologist's perspective on a A Tale of Two Caravans.

It makes sense that Donald Trump is worried about an approaching caravan. But it’s not the one you’re probably thinking of: the few thousand desperate Central Americans who’ve banded together and are slowly making their way through Mexico toward the U.S. border. These migrants have broken no laws in undertaking their difficult and dangerous journey, and seeking asylum here is their legal right.

No, the caravan that’s actually giving Trump and the GOP panicky night fevers is comprised of tens of millions of U.S. citizens. Committed to countering the horrors of the past two years—and the past week—they’re heading to polling places across the country with a single goal in mind: to vote some of the president’s fondest enablers out of office. ...

Read it all here.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

After all, we make this media ...

Kevin Drum has been thinking about whether our internet addiction makes the world a worse place. He thinks not.

I once wrote that the internet makes smart people smarter and dumb people dumber. Likewise, it might very well make good people better and bad people worse. But on average, that doesn’t mean the world is a worse place. So why does it seem so much worse?

That’s pretty easy: the internet boasts an immediacy that allows it to pack a bigger punch than any previous medium. But this is hardly something new. Newspapers packed a bigger punch than the gossipmonger who appeared in your village every few weeks. Radio was more powerful than newspapers. TV was more powerful than radio. And social media is more powerful than TV.

Contrary to common opinion, however, this has little to do with the nature of these mediums. Sure, they’ve become more visceral over time: first words, then pictures, then voice, then moving images, and finally all of that packaged together and delivered with the power of gossip from a trusted friend. But what’s really different is how much time we spend on them ...

Does all this mean that there’s more news than ever before? Of course not. Does it mean that there seems to be more news than ever before? Oh my, yes.

And that brings me circuitously to my point: broadly speaking, the world is not worse than it used to be. We simply see far more of its dark corners than we used to, and we see them in the most visceral possible way: live, in color, and with caustic commentary. Human nature being what it is, it’s hardly surprising that we end up thinking the world is getting worse. ...

Maybe I am not quite so sanguine as he is, but I think we'll adjust to preserve our humanity while enjoying our technological marvels. I could be wrong.

I'll find out if I'm wrong insofar as I engage with the real world alongside taking advantage of the immediacy of so much information, both painful and delightful.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Ilhan Omar is expected to be elected to Congress next Tuesday

This Somali-American Minnesota state legislator and refugee from Kenya will give the hallowed House of Representatives some new perspectives. Isn't that what so many people who've migrated here have brought to this country?

She explains why she runs for office:

“It is part of my Islamic teaching to make sure we are charitable,” Ms. Omar told me. “A huge part of the Islamic faith is that you can’t sleep with a full belly if your neighbors and those around you aren’t sleeping with a full belly.”

H/t to Wajahat Ali in the New York Times.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

On community and hate

In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, Tara Isabella Burton posed the question "Why [do] extremists keep attacking places of worship?" Before this crime, there were the murders at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, the attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the 2008 shootings at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church ... the list goes on.

In these days of frantic campaigning, my quick reads of coverage of even the most dire events are little more than a skim. But I was struck by this:

... the attack on Tree of Life is part of another, wider, and no less worrying trend: the degree to which places of worship have become targets for acts that could be classified as domestic terrorism. In the past decade, houses of worship — from synagogues to Christian churches to Sikh temples — have increasingly become targets for extremist violence. Many of these attacks have been explicitly white supremacist or right-wing in nature, targeting perceived liberals, ethnic minorities, or women.

In each case, the attacks have been designed to maximize emotional effect. By targeting a house of worship, rather than a private home or business, the attacker has committed a powerful symbolic transgression: profaning a space that is both sacred and communal. Attacks on places of worship double not just as attacks on worshippers, but as attacks on the community itself.

In my haste, I read that last sentence as simply attacks on community itself -- not exactly what Burton is saying, but an implication very much there in her thought.

Do angry shooters vent their rage on people gathered in community because, somewhere in the reaches of their hate-addled brains, community itself is the enemy? People coming together for a purpose -- whether as a bowling club or to worship as they choose -- form communities, webs of human connection that sustain and enrich their humanity.

When rage comes to define individuals, human connection becomes difficult, maybe impossible. When elements of the cultural context excuse, even validate, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and religious bigotry, do those who for whatever reason feel themselves outside community feel the need to attack community itself?

So it seems.

Evil leaders mobilize lonely losers for their own purposes. That's how we get fascism -- when the losers for whom community has long failed or been broken accept the leadership of one who offers the false community of shared resentment and hatred. Our webs of human connection, of communal purpose, are our deepest defense against collective evil.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Yes on San Francisco's Prop. C

Working in Reno on one little piece of the most important election in recent US history (1858 comes to mind as comparable, but not many others) is likely to prevent me from writing daily blog posts here until after November 6.

San Franciscans have a chance to reduce the frequency of scenes like this. But will we rise to the chance?
Heather Knight writing in the SF Chron offers an insight into the opposition to a small tax on rich businesses to provide better services to people living on our streets:

Campaign finance disclosures show contributions to the No on C campaign from Stripe ($419,999); Visa ($225,000); Paul Graham, an investor in Y-Combinator ($150,000); Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey ($125,000); Lyft ($100,000); brokerage founder Charles Schwab ($100,000); venture capitalist Michael Moritz ($100,000); the Hotel Council ($50,000) and the Committee on Jobs ($30,000).

Yes, in one of the cities with the biggest income inequality gap in the world — where a household has to earn $300,000 a year to buy a median-priced home — CEOs are donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to prevent their companies from paying a small amount to house homeless people.

Not all out tech overlords are so small minded; one of the wonders of this San Francisco moment is that Marc Benioff of Salesforce has put his money behind a more humane vision for the city where his building looms. San Franciscans can show their vision of our future by voting YES on C.

H/t to Erudite Partner for the photo.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

What can we do when our country seems engulfed by atrocities ....

We can remember to remind those around us that we love them -- and keep struggling for justice, generosity, and decency.

Yesterday several hundred people organized by the labor union UniteHERE knocked on thousands of doors in Reno and Sparks, Nevada, working for US Senate candidate Jacky Rosen. They were reaching out to people who don't habitually vote in Nevada's most hotly contested county; and voters are responding!

It seemed fitting. The Democratic candidate -- a supporter of raising the minimum wage, improving education so the state's young people can find good jobs, and ensuring that health care is available to all -- is one of Nevada's more prominent Jewish leaders.

According to Politico:

Rosen popped up on Democrats' radar after being elected president of her local synagogue — the largest Jewish temple in the state — in 2013... “The minute I found out she was a synagogue president, I knew she could do anything,” said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), who recruited Rosen for the House seat [that Rosen won in 2016.]. ....

Administering a large voluntary organization whose members feel passionate about its mission probably is good practice for returning some civilizing integrity to our political hellscape.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Republican polices increase the cost of health insurance

Insurance can only be affordable if everyone signs up, especially healthy people who think they don't need coverage. Insurance adds up all our risk and divides the cost of care across all of us, sick and healthy.

By ending the tax penalty for failing to carry insurance and letting insurance companies sell junk plans that don't cover expensive illness (like cancer), Republicans are giving people who think they'll never get sick incentives to drop out of Obamacare coverage. So guess what? Insurance companies jack up prices because they are stuck with the sick people who cost them money.

You don't have to trust me about this. Kaiser Family Foundation explains it all in health policy wonk language.

H/t to my Facebook friend/health economist maven for the story.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Voting the California and San Francisco ballots

I'm feeling virtuous today; last night I got around to voting my absentee ballot. Couldn't very well do all this election work and forget to vote, could I?

The California ballot was not exciting. Gavin Newsom is going to be our governor; there's no evidence he's any less of a pretty face in an expensive suit peddling policies that enrich the wealthy than when he was our mayor. He finally waited out Jerry and here we are. Senator-since-1992 Diane Feinstein is putting away poor State Senator Kevin De Leon who never could make the sale of himself as an alternative. Diane would have served her state better by being willing to cede to a successor before they carry her out in a box.

To my mind, the only statewide contest worth caring about is electing Tony Thurmond to the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction. His opponent is a privatizing charter school advocate.

Only three of the statewide ballot measures seem worth much attention. Prop. 5 would further extend the scope of Prop. 13's restrictions on property taxes. The original measure has distorted and hampered local and state governance since 1979. The last thing California needs is more exemptions that shrink the tax base among residents who have lucked into real estate price inflation.

Prop. 6 is a Republican ploy to turn out their base by repealing a gas tax. Polls say it is failing; apparently Californians like the road and infrastructure improvements the gas tax funds.

Prop. 10 would allow localities to enact meaningful rent control. Real estate interests persuaded the state legislature to neuter local controls several decades ago and they are spending big bucks to keep rent control attempts hamstrung. I don't buy the idea that rent controls kill housing development; there's clearly money to be made in building housing in the California real estate market. Rent control might reduce the profit margins, but people gotta live. So I voted "yes" on Prop. 10.

Not living in a contested supervisor district, there's not much on the local San Francisco ballot of great interest to me with one vital exception: Prop. C. This is much the hottest local issue, imposing a small tax on San Francisco's largest businesses to fund housing, mental health and support services for our people who are living on the streets. As Joe Eskenazi explained in Mission Local:

Prop. C would raise the city’s expenditures on homeless issues from 3 percent of its budget to 6 percent — addressing San Francisco’s consensus No. 1 problem. More money is, in fact, a prime solution to the problem of not having enough money. And no serious person claims this city currently has sufficient resources to bring its homeless problem under control. ...

Sometimes voting seems useless, but there is almost always something or someone who matters a lot. Vote we must, unless we are content to be ruled by the other people who do vote.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

It could be a lot worse: "fascism is not just a foreign problem"

When I talk with volunteers on the Reno campaign, they pretty much all say something like "I felt I had to DO something." And they are doing something.

Obviously I'm necessarily fixated these days on the domestic USofA, but I was pulled up short by this from a new friend describing what the descent into fascism and terror feels like in Brazil. In Brazil, it is a lot worse. It's long, but worth reading. We're working not to even have to be under a threat this acute.

Jair Bolsonaro, who is likely to win Brazil's presidential election next Sunday, just promised to purge the country of his leftist political opponents, threatening that "either they go overseas, or they go to jail." These are my dear friends--people who have dedicated their lives to social justice-- whom he has repeatedly promised to kill, imprison, torture, and exile.

I am feeling terrified and overwhelmed right now, unsure of the path forward. But as a first step, I am calling on my friends from other parts of the world to stand in solidarity with my friends in Brazil who are fighting to defend democracy. Please sign this international petition against fascism and be prepared to take further solidarity actions.

I have seen Bolsonaro speak, and it is hard to describe how repulsive he is (I was nearly arrested for flicking him off at one of his rallies). But just to give you a sense, below are some of his words that I have compiled from news articles. Keep in mind that the Wall Street Journal endorsed his candidacy, and Steve Bannon advised his campaign--fascism is not just a foreign problem!


• The former army man has spoken fondly of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985.“ The dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill,” he told a radio interviewer in 2016.

• “I’m pro-torture, and the people are too.”

• “You won’t change anything in this country through voting – nothing, absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, you’ll only change things by having a civil war and doing the work the military regime didn’t do. Killing 30,000, starting with FHC [former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso]. Killing. If a few innocent people die, that’s alright.”


• Mr Bolsonaro got into a heated exchange with congresswoman Maria do Rosario in the lower house of Congress. “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it,” he said, in response to remarks made by Ms Rosario claiming he had encouraged rape. Mr Bolsonaro later said he was not a rapist, but if he were he would not rape do Rosario because she is “ugly” and “not his type”. 

• “I had four sons, but then I had a moment of weakness, and the fifth was a girl.”


• In an interview with Playboy magazine in 2011 Bolsonaro said that he “would be incapable of loving a homosexual son … I would prefer my son to die in an accident than show up with a moustachioed man.”

• In May 2002, Bolsonaro threatened gay people after then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso was seen in a photo holding a rainbow flag at an event in support of gay marriage. “I won’t fight against it nor discriminate, but if I see two men kissing each other on the street, I’ll beat them up,” he said.


• “You can be sure that if I get there [the presidency], there’ll be no money for NGOs. If it’s up to me, every citizen will have a gun at home. Not one centimeter will be demarcated for indigenous reserves or quilombolas.”

• In a speech made last year, Mr Bolsonaro spoke about a black settlement in Brazil founded by the descendants of slaves. “They do nothing. They are not even good for procreation,” he said. 

• He has also reportedly referred to black activists as “animals” who should “go back to the zoo”

• During an interview aired by the Bandeirantes TV network in March 2011, Bolsonaro responded to a question about what he would do if his son fell in love with a black woman. “I won’t discuss promiscuity,” he said. “I don’t run that risk because my sons were very well educated.”

• He called Hatian and Syrian refugees "the scum of the earth"


• He has said that the Landless Workers Movement “should be treated as terrorists” and pushed for legislation arming landowners to kill them.

• “Here I want to say to the MST scumbags that we’re going to give guns to agribusiness, we’re going to give guns to the rural producer, because the welcome mat for a land invader is a bullet, 247 caliber."

This man is expected to win Brazil's presidency on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

One way Nevada lowers "the cost of voting"

A couple of days ago, the Washington Post's Wonkblog published a map of which states make it hardest and which make it easiest to vote, generating what they called the "cost of voting index." They found that in states that make voting more difficult "Low voter turnout is no accident." Accumulated barriers to participation -- registration hurdles, finicky identification requirements, small numbers of polling places or lack of provisions for absentees or no early voting opportunities -- measurably reduce turnout.
Working here in Reno on a campaign to elect Jacky Rosen to the U.S. Senate and Steve Sisolak as Nevada's Governor, I was surprised to see Nevada treated as a worse than average state for access to voting. Now on reflection, I get it: registration is not simple; absentee ballots are not automatic; and persons convicted of felonies face a complex process to recover their rights.

But here in Nevada's second urban area, Washoe County, I'm seeing a system that acts as if it really wants all the people to be able to vote. We're working to encourage supporters to go to 23 neighborhood Early Voting sites. These aren't forbidding places like police stations or county buildings; they are in the local supermarkets!

And once voters get there, they encounter helpful poll workers, Spanish language ballots if needed, and a generally welcoming environment. Most amazingly to me, "first time voters" are offered a certificate celebrating their participation!
What a way to make voters for life!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

This is what "voter suppression" looks like

Indian Country Today shared this graphic from Standing Rock Sioux tribal authorities which shows members how to navigate the maze Republican North Dakotans have set up to keep them from voting. By demanding that voters use a street address -- something many Standing Rock Sioux on the reservation do not have -- the dominant GOP aims to disenfranchise potential Democratic voters. That many hoops to jump will almost certainly reduce Native voting.

In a strong article on the history of racist voter suppression, Michael Tomasky sums up:

Today’s Republican Party is not simply trying to win elections. It is simultaneously trying to rewrite the rules—gerrymandering and voter suppression are crucial to this effort—so that it never loses a federal election again.

Will we the people let them succeed?

Monday, October 22, 2018

Sunday, October 21, 2018

What it is really like to work on an election campaign: whipsaw time

Once GOTV starts, you are banking votes! You are no longer counting door knocks, or conversations, or even IDs. Real VOTES!

And, as secretaries of state post the party breakdown of votes cast, you become subject to the speculations of pundits who riff off the tea leaves they see in the numbers of Republicans and Democrats who have already voted.

Here in Nevada, we have a truly experienced pundit in John Ralston who all sides consider a sound observer. He thinks Dems kicked butt on the first day of early voting here in our turf in Washoe County
Good for Rosen and Sisolak! Dems also exceeded expectations in Clark County, that is Las Vegas, where most Nevadans live. But he also issues a warning:

Big show for first day and it peters out? Or a sign of what’s to come?

If you are working on a campaign, whatever seems to be happening and whatever pundits may say, GOTV is when you must execute your plan and work harder. If it is a good plan, and the voters are responding, all the better. You constructed your campaign around the best plan you could make and now is not the time for rethinking -- all your work is about turning out votes NOW.

Pundits will pundit, but you have to focus on what you can control, put away distracting emotions, and do what you can do. Trust the plan.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

What it is really like to work on a campaign: from persuasion, to IDs, to GOTV

Early, in-person, voting begins today in Nevada. We're ready.

In the first phase of any campaign, the job is to persuade potential supporters to take an interest in the candidate. Much of that happens in media, through public events, and announced issue positions. But in a campaign like this one in Reno which canvasses potential voters who don't always get around to voting, persuasion can take place in doorway encounters. The job of the canvasser is to help the voter feel why this candidate's election might be personally important to her. It requires imagination, talking, and listening. Successful canvassers learn a lot about what ordinary citizens really care about.

After persuasion comes voter identification (IDs), compiling the most extensive list possible of voters who promise to vote for your candidate. That's what we've been doing here in Reno while knocking on over 65,000 doors since Labor Day in support of Jacky Rosen for US Senate and Steve Sisolak for Governor.

Any campaign swings into a much higher gear when voters begin to be able to cast ballots. This phase is called GOTV -- "Get Out the Vote." Now you have to go back to all those identified supporters and push them to the polls. You offer rides. You leave doorhangers at their entrances to tell them where the balloting is happening. You go back, again and again, until the Nevada Secretary of State indicates they have voted. The work is intense, but also more obviously fruitful than the long search for IDs. Finally -- voting is happening.

It used to be that voting was something that took place only on one Election Day. There were good features this; it encouraged us to think of ourselves as citizens engaging together in the ultimate enactment of civic unity. But it was also inconvenient and tended to exclude some who wanted to participate. Nowadays, in different forms in different states, elections take place over several weeks. This creates multiplying opportunities for campaigns to complete the work of turning out supporters; it also creates manic intensity among campaigners. That's where we are here in Reno, entering GOTV season, amped-up yet another notch in the always high energy business of sparking democratic energy.

Friday, October 19, 2018

What's enthusiasm? Could the answer be campaign cash?

This poll found exceptional enthusiasm about voting in the midterms, especially among Democrats, young people and people of color. Well good. If this is true, we'll elect some better politicians in a lot of places. But as a person who works in elections, I'm cautious about professions of excitement about voting. Because people think voting is something they should do, they sometimes declare an intent to participate -- but somehow don't get around to acting. So we'll see ...

But there is some measurable evidence of Democratic voters' enthusiasm about the election in fundraising numbers recently made public.

Democrats outraised Republicans in fully 93 of the 100 most competitive seats, as shown in this map. And the hauls themselves are extraordinary—at least for one side. Sixty-two Democrats in the top 100 races raised more than $1 million each in the third quarter, with only two being incumbents. In the many years we’ve been tracking this sort of data, we’ve never seen figures anything like this. (By contrast, only 16 Republicans brought in over $1 million—14 of them incumbents.)

Of course, money is far from the only factor that will determine who wins the House next month. But these numbers do ensure that Democrats will have the resources they need to get their message out over the stretch run. And the enormous upsurge in Democratic fundraising, powered extensively by grassroots donors, shows an intense enthusiasm that is not matched on the Republican side.

House Democrats awash in cash, Daily Kos Elections

CalMatters looked at the extraordinary cash flow in California. This too is a marker of Democratic enthusiasm, an enthusiasm rising up from the grassroots.

In campaigns, big money players get the most attention. But Democrats running in California’s seven most competitive congressional districts are vastly out-raising Republicans in small-dollar donations, a review of campaign disclosures shows.

Through Sept. 30, Democratic candidates running in the seven GOP-held seats where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in 2016 raised $40 million to the Republicans’ $18.7 million, filings compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show.

In donations of under $200, Democrats raised $6.4 million, almost 10 times the $671,000 raised by Republicans raised through the first three quarters of 2018.

... candidates can return to small-dollar donors multiple times to help fuel their campaign efforts, ranging from television ads to get-out-the-vote drives. They also know that people who give money vote and volunteer, if not for them then for candidates in their home districts.

There's genuine enthusiasm in all that small donation giving. The election will prove whether it can be turned into actual votes.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Just a smart business move

Visiting my mother-in-law in New York City in 2010, I heard frequent complaints about a new condo building that cut off her view of the river. "And they named it after Donald Trump!" I took a picture:
Today I read that the building's residents have freed themselves from the Trump branding.

The push to remove the Trump branding from 200 Riverside Boulevard began in 2017. In response to concerns raised by some of the 377 condo owners, the condo board began discussions of possibly removing the Trump name from the building’s facade.

... The prospect of expensive litigation with the Trump Organization scared many residents, and a small group vigorously opposed excising the Trump name.

An internal message board for residents showed that division.

“I am adamant that the sign should remain on the building,” a resident wrote. “We bought in the building with it. There is no reason to take it down.”

Another wrote: “Arguably, at one time the Trump name may have contributed something to the value of our apartments. That is clearly not the case today.”

Eventually a majority took their case for removing the name to court and this month they won the right to take down the Trump name.

They apparently had a good economic argument that getting rid of the Trump name was to their benefit, raising the value of the their units.

... Trump apartments in 2017 sold for an average of $1,741 per square foot in Manhattan, or 6.6 percent less than the average Manhattan condominium, according to CityRealty, an online apartment broker. At Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, average prices per square foot declined from $3,000 in 2013 to about $2,000 last year.

Trump may be making out like the bandit he is on his Saudi and Russian friends, but even for affluent condo buyers, he's a dud.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Historical midterm parallels

It's common to analogize President Trump to his bellicose Indian-killing predecessor Andrew Jackson or perhaps to Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's vice president elevated by assassination who worked to undo the good work of the Civil Rights Amendments. But presidential historian Russell L. Riley suggests another parallel to another president known for his racism: Woodrow Wilson, who became enamored of his own vision for the country and sought to make the midterm election of one hundred years ago all about him. Riley shares Wilson's manifesto to his fellow citizens, offered as World War I wound down; it sure sounds like Trump's baseless bravado about a "red wave." (Read it substituting "Republican" for "Democratic" -- Wilson was a Dem.)

“My Fellow Americans: The Congressional elections are at hand. They occur in the most critical period our country has ever faced or is likely to face in our time. If you have approved of my leadership and wish me to continue to be your unembarrassed spokesman in affairs at home and abroad, I earnestly beg that you will express yourselves unmistakably to that effect by returning a Democratic majority to both the Senate and the House of Representatives. … "

Wilson's party lost badly in the voting. Riley opines that Wilson's exhortations merely reminded voters that they were sick of being kept on pins and needles by a leader who thought his own ideas and impulses should override all opposition.

Wilson — like Trump — had made himself an unwelcome guest at the breakfast table, where most Americans prefer to begin their days without disagreeable intrusions from the White House. And there was, based on Wilson’s own proclamation, one good way for the citizens of his day to prevent more of the same: send the opposition party to Congress to stuff the president back into his constitutional box.

Vote we must.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In transit today

Still haunted by this in front of a Franciscan center in midtown Manhattan.

Monday, October 15, 2018

What will they sell us next?

I'm in New York City for a day, helping a friend pay a visit to a very sick relative. Through the kindness of another friend, we're staying overnight at a "boutique" hotel. Apparently this offering is how the place differentiates itself.
It's very comfortable, though slightly esoteric in a commercial way.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Climate change will wreak havoc in Nicaragua

We wouldn't be responsible board members of El Porvenir if we tried to design a five year strategic plan without recognizing the effects of climate change on the Nicaraguan countryside where we partner with communities to bring in clean water and work to improve watersheds. Unhappily, Central America and Nicaragua in particular are going to get some of the worst of what fossil fuel profits have wrought. Our member Dr. Richard Gammon, a University of Washington climate scientist, brought us up to date on the new IPCC report's dire scenarios.

Extreme weather isn't the half.

Many poor Nicaraguans are small farmers, scratching out a living on marginal lands. Cycles of drought and periodic torrential rain destroy crops. Warming means that crops that need cooler temperatures will have to be planted higher uphill, an adaptation that will only be available to large land owners.

Higher temperatures will decrease yields from corn (and Dr. Gammon added wheat is vulnerable as well.) Staple food prices will rise.

Meanwhile forests that are already directly stressed by illegal logging and encroachment form hungry farmers will be further threatened by drought and wildfires. The Nicaraguan government's weak response to a massive wildfire in the Indio Maiz biological reserve was one of the triggers of the country's current political unrest. Healthy forests are essential to preserving ground water resources as well as absorbing excess atmospheric carbon.

Extreme heat in and of itself will become dangerous to human activity out of doors. When day temperatures around 40C (104F) become the norm in conditions of high humidity, human beings risk their lives performing strenuous work.

Climate scientists predict as many as 300 such high heat days a year in Central America within this century as global temperatures rise.

Learning more about these threats to long suffering Nicaragua has only redoubled our commitment at El Porvenir to our water projects and particularly to our pilot efforts to make water resources more resilient through watershed improvement. Communities working with North American partners can do much to protect themselves. We can and must help.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Because everyone should have privacy on the toilet ...

and a place to wash their hands afterward.

The kids in this video explain about their school's new latrines and hand washing stations.

In the middle of this crazy season, I'm spending a weekend at the annual face-to-face El Porvenir board meeting, building a strategic plan to continue our work of over 25 years partnering with rural Nicaraguans to bring clean water to their communities.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday cat blogging

Here's Morty, up close and personal. Do you think he misses us? We miss him.

It all comes down to WHO votes

The New York Times recently featured the Senate contest in Nevada where Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (D) is running to unseat sitting Senator Dean Heller (R), in one of their live action Sienna College/Upshot polls. They called over 25,000 Nevadans, talked with 642 (a normal response rate), and concluded that the incumbent is up 2 percent over the challenger during three days in the first full week of October, 25 days out from the election. This outcome is in line with many other polls, though many show Rosen up by a similar slim margin. Most of the professional political prognosticators rate the contest a "tossup."

Until the Times polled this race I'm working on, I thought their live polls were kind of a tacky gimmick. Sure -- it was fun to watch little lights twinkle across a map of the state, representing each call as it happened. But this was also meaning-free. However, along with the visual sparkle, the Times published an interesting dissection of how pollsters might interpret the responses which I've captured here and seems worth picking apart.
Pollsters can never be sure what the characteristics of people moved to vote in a particular election will prove to be. When they guess wrong about the composition of the electorate, their assessments will be wrong. As as general rule, especially in low profile races, the same people --older, whiter, better off -- vote every time. But when an election is higher profile, the electorate can be different.

Reading down the snippet above, this poll estimates that if only the people who voted in 2014 come out, Heller wins running away. But as more people are moved to vote, the result changes. If the people who voted in 2016 were to vote -- when Hillary Clinton and the Senate's only Latina member Catherine Cortez-Masto were on the ballot -- Jacky Rosen runs away with the election.

Nevada is blue when more citizens vote. Our job in Reno is to make sure that people who only vote some years cast their ballots this year. If we do our job -- if we can convey the necessity of voting this year -- Jacky Rosen becomes a Democratic Senator. It is that simple. Join us.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Cooks and casino workers take on Trump in Nevada

Erudite Partner has chronicled our work on UniteHERE's campaign in Reno to elect a new Senator and Governor. She's impressed with what the labor union is doing here.

It’s fair to say that UNITE HERE has at least two goals in this campaign. The first, of course, is to elect Jacky Rosen and Steve Sisolak, which, as these campaigners see it, will further both the interests of working people in general and the union’s goals in particular. These include guaranteeing the rights of immigrants, who make up much of the workforce in the hospitality sector of the economy; advancing the concept that “one job should be enough” for economic survival; and keeping the government from taxing the hard-won health benefits of union members while ensuring that all working people have access to adequate health care.

... But that’s only for starters. The campaign also has a second purpose, as important to the union in its own way as winning this election: the development of future organizers and leaders from its rank and file. UNITE HERE emphasizes leadership among those who are the majority of its members -- immigrants, people of color, and women. I often overhear the leads discussing how to help specific canvassers practice leadership skills. Most mornings, Cesar, Nate, and Christina -- each of whom came from that same rank and file -- ask a few of the canvassers to demonstrate one of three crucial organizing skills: getting in the door, asking an “agitational” question, or telling a personal story. All three will help any canvasser make a genuine connection, however brief it may be, with the stranger who opens the door when they knock. ...

Read the story here.

EP explains that she's working as a "data nerd" -- making sure that our folks have target voters to chase down every day. I'm working on organizing volunteers to join the fray. Follow this link, sign up, and join us for a few days. Sooner is better. Early voting in the neighborhoods starts October 20. Though we've knocked on over 45,000 doors already, we have thousands more citizens to reach in order to win in Nevada.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

We've been ahead of the pack before ...

By a margin of 3,587 votes on Oct. 10, 1911, Californians approved Proposition 4, which implemented Senate Constitutional Amendment 8 and granted women the right to vote in state and local elections.

California joined Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Washington. Women would not gain the right to vote in national elections until 1920.

The names of the women in the image above are lost to history, though the photo was taken in San Francisco.


Glad we don't have to wear those hats, though.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Faith defiled: a very Roman Catholic jeremiad

What's a jeremiad? The noun comes from the the words and actions of the ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. According to that secular source, the Merriam Webster dictionary:

Jeremiah was a naysayer. That Jewish prophet, who lived from about 650 to 570 BC, spent his days lambasting the Hebrews for their false worship and social injustice and denouncing the king for his selfishness, materialism, and inequities. ...

Jeremiah brought righteous wrath to the injustices and false pieties of his time.

Michael Sean Winter is an opinion writer for the National Catholic Reporter, the liberal independent news source for all things Catholic, both graces and scandals. Winters' commentary sometimes feels to me disembodied, intellectually distanced from lived human realities. But not these days. The Kavanaugh appointment and its revelations about the character of the "good Catholic boy" from "the best schools" has driven Winter to unalloyed prophetic ferocity.

The Kavanaugh hearings and all the commentary and conversation surrounding them are a disgrace the way that the Battle of Antietam was a disgrace. The Civil War was also a moral reckoning — with the sin of slavery. It was ugly. There were mass casualties. There were innocent civilians killed and maimed. There was brutality all around. But, in the end, slavery was extinguished. Not racism mind you — and on the morrow of the Kavanaugh vote, misogyny will still persist — but slavery was ended.

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away," said Abraham Lincoln in his storied Second Inaugural Address. "Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

Let that be our attitude today. If every drop of humiliation and fear and degradation that has been visited upon women through the centuries must now be visited upon men embarrassed to be discussing in public their brutish teenage behavior, men unable to advance in their careers because they got drunk and abused a woman, men, even famous and beloved men like Bill Cosby, sent to jail because they could not and did not control their sexual urges, let it be said again that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

Moral reckonings are not pretty. They are necessary. This is no disgrace. The centuries of degrading women sexually was the disgrace.

That's pretty out there -- from a Catholic male intellectual. The combination of observing a corrupt secular power structure and a Church whose patriarchal hierarchy has produced one scandalous sexual abuse after another has Winters screaming in anguish.

Women also weep and rage after justice, confronting the naked hatred of too many aligned against us.

Monday, October 08, 2018


This seems a proper follow-on to yesterday's post about voters who describe themselves as "undecided." True "undecided" voters (not the ones who just want you to go away) are often citizens who have never absorbed (or been taught) how government might work in a democracy of, by, and for the people. Getting them to take enough interest to participate is step one.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

What is it really like to work on a campaign: Door knocking

The first thing to know about looking for voters by knocking on their doors is that, regardless of day of the week or time of day, no one answers at most doors. The conventional response rate is something like contact with a live human being at 15 percent of knocks. (Most are actual knocks -- you'd be astonished how few doorbells actually ring.) We're exceeding that rate, getting an answer at close to 25 percent of doors; this may mean we are unusually determined, or perhaps that the targets we're seeking -- infrequent voters -- work a lot of strange shifts.

Unfortunately, a good number of those people who do answer turn out not to be the voter the canvasser was looking for. Consequently, a strong canvasser who approaches 11 doors an hour and walks for 3.5 hours may talk with less than 10 targeted voters during her shift.

It takes a massive effort to reach a significant mass of voters. Door knocking is a volume game. With a 35 person crew, we're doing this in Reno, where in a month we've exceeded 40,000 doors knocked.

Then there is what happens when the canvasser actually finds her voter. Canvassers, both paid and volunteer, get over any shyness quite quickly. This work isn't about some polite little push to remember to vote. Nor do our canvassers give up easily. They are trained to be committed, a little intrusive, honest about what they know, very persuasive, and determined to get to a truthful "yes" to Jacky Rosen and Steve Sisolak. And they are damn good at it. (I've been door knocking off and on for decades and I learn from our UniteHERE worker team every day.)

Early in campaign season, many voters proclaim themselves "undecided." That can mean a range of things from "go away; you're bothering me" to "I really don't know enough" to "I'm afraid I'll look stupid if I talk about the election." The canvasser's job is to cut through to a conversation about what the voter cares about and to bring that back to the importance of the election and our candidates. It's not hard for our team to believe this election is vital to their own lives. They are working people from the bottom of the economic totem pole and mostly women and/or people of color. They get to "yes" more frequently by the day.

Nate Cohn in the Upshot recently shared some data collected by the pollster Siena about "undecideds."

In the aggregate, undecided voters don’t look very different from decided voters, either in terms of their attitudes or their demographic characteristics. They just aren’t as politically engaged.

... undecided voters just don’t know much about the candidates: 56 percent of the undecided voters don’t know either candidate, while only 17 percent of decided voters don’t know either candidate. ... A narrow category of undecided voters seems not to like either candidate: 11 percent of undecided voters don’t like either candidate, something true of only 4 percent of decided voters.

This probably isn’t unusual for these voters. Their lack of knowledge probably reflects a generally lower level of political engagement. A majority of the undecided voters in our polling have never voted in a primary .... Just 50 percent say they’re almost certain to vote in November, compared with 67 percent of decided voters.

This description fits the people we are targeting in Reno perfectly -- folks who are registered, but unlikely to vote without a strong push to engage with the election.

If we can find, identify, and turn out these citizens, our candidates win. The work is that simple.
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