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.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

The rage of the replaced

One can afford a nice suit and tie. But really, what other difference is there between them?

They both think they will die if they cannot rule. The one on the right never did rule; his entitlement was always a con game played on him by the powerful. The one on the left was groomed to rule; nothing ever forced him to understand he lived among and alongside others with equal claims to humanity.

I do not wish to emulate their rage. I wish to live bathed in the community of those who struggle for the full humanity of all. It's better over here. The raging ones will hurt us however they can.

We must "love one another or die" in a wise poet's words.

Polling miscellany

What with my intense work on the campaign to make Nevada blue, I haven't had my usual amount of time to surf about in random polls. But in addition to the election, there are some interesting findings floating about.
For all the Trump base's hostility to gender non-conformity, a Harris poll finds support for trans people's rights in the workplace is increasing at least marginally. Seven in ten people support a law "to protect LGBTQ people from bias in employment, public accommodations, housing and credit." Nice to see when the Trump administration is gratuitously jerking around about visas for partners of foreign diplomats who happen to be gay.
Latino Decisions finds that adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census arouses sharp suspicions that the Trump administration would use the answers against Latinx families. Not hard to understand where that fear comes from ... Latinx leaders have worked hard to encourage full community participation in the census to ensure their constituents are noticed in social policy. That effort will be in trouble if the Trump administration gets its way and adds that frightening question.

PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) polled issues related to abortion, gender, sexual harassment, and women's power in the context of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation and the midterms. The linked article explores numerous findings, most of which merely confirm what a divided country we live in.
Actually I'm a little surprised by how far we've come in converting Democratic men to advocates for women ... good for these guys. We're gaining, but it sure feels too slow and too painful.

Interestingly, PRRI found that in this fraught moment, abortion was more important to Democrats than to Republicans. That's a change. Just wait to until Justice Kavanaugh and the other four black-robed men decide to restrict abortions further.

More happily, generic (unnamed, hypothetical) Democratic candidates lead among registered voters who claim to be certain they will vote. But additionally, among those not quite so certain they'll vote, the partisan gulf in strength of intent to vote turns into a chasm. That's why we're doing all this work to find infrequent voters who will support Democrats at the top of the ticket here in Reno. Once we find them, we'll hound them until they get to the polls. Why not? voting for Jacky Rosen and Steve Sisolak is what they claimed to want to do. Campaigns help them realize their intent.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Mayor Breed delivers for her buddies

Well, now we know who "Us" is. It's not San Francisco's homeless people or San Franciscans who want something done to help this population.

It's her buddies in San Francisco's elite.

Breed comes out against homeless tax measure Proposition C
Citing “the long-term impacts on our city,” Mayor London Breed announced Friday she is opposing Proposition C on the November ballot that would raise $300 million annually for homeless services by taxing San Francisco’s largest businesses. ...

... Analysis by the City Controller’s Office, released Sept. 24, said that the tax would have a minimal impact on the economy and would cost The City about 875 jobs over the next two decades.

... The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is leading the campaign against Proposition C.

San Francisco's elected officials who similarly owe their offices to big tech money, State Senator Wiener and Assemblymember Chiu, also are showing their true allegiances by opposing the measure to fund homeless services.

Governors galore!

Immersed here in Reno in the campaign to elect Steve Sisolak (that's the guy above) governor, I hadn't had time to notice that Democratic gubernatorial candidates look to be surging in races all over the country in states that have been out of reach for awhile.

Here's Ed Kilgore:

Democrats could pick up six net governorships in the Midwest in November. They are strongly favored in Michigan, where outgoing two-term Republican governorRick Snyder is very unpopular, and Democratic former state legislative leader Gretchen Whitmer has maintained about a ten-point lead over Attorney General Bill Schuette.

They have an even bigger lead in Illinois, where Democrat J.B. Pritzker is outspending the deep-pocketed Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner.

In Wisconsin, the steady survivor of many challenges Scott Walker may have finally run out of luck; he’s trailing Democrat Tony Evers by a steadily growing margin.

And Democrats have been recently pulling even with initially favored Republicans in Ohio (where Richard Cordray has caught and maybe passed Mike DeWine in recent polling), Iowa (self-financed Fred Hubbell now leads steadily fading incumbent Kim Reynolds), and even Kansas (Democratic legislator Laura Kelly is dead even with Kris Kobach as a divided Republican Party splinters even further).

That summation doesn't include the states where we know Dems will win, like California and New York.

And also -- it doesn't include two of the most exciting candidacies of the year: Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida. It's still a long shot, but we could come out of November 6 with two Black governors in deep south states. There is a surge toward new possibilities indeed!

Friday cat blogging

This staring fellow sure has a magnificent tail. Do you think he's proud of it?

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Reno is a Tesla town

Elon Musk's cars are as much a presence here as in the San Francisco Bay Area. This charging station sits behind a modern suburban motel.

Reno made itself a Tesla town by welcoming the Gigafactory, Tesla's giant battery manufacturing facility 20 miles east of town. With the sprawling, secretive plant are supposed to come 6500 good jobs. Tesla enthusiasts write as if the car maker were the Second Coming.

Reno, a city just four hours away from Silicon Valley, has been home of Tesla’s Gigafactory – a city whose economy once chiefly relied on the low-wage casino industry, where bankruptcy and crime were frequent and unpredictable. Hit hard with the housing crash and recession, Reno fell into hard times in 2010 with a 14 percent unemployment rate. Once home to mostly thrifters and passersby, Reno’s outlook started to change with talks of Tesla’s plans for technological revitalization. Startups and incubators have been popping up to attract more millennials, new murals are being painted onto derelict walls, all are response to the hope that Tesla will be able to inject into the local economy sustainable, higher-paying jobs.

There are plenty of skeptics. The Verge examined soberly whether the state's offerings to Musk could pay off for anyone except the capitalist:

Over the next 20 years, Tesla could take in nearly $1.3 billion in tax benefits for building its Gigafactory in Nevada, according to projections from the state, as hires are made for the factory locally and from around the country. Assuming Tesla meets its obligations under the deal, it will spend 20 years free from sales tax, and 10 years free from property tax, while it receives millions of dollars more in tax credits.

... The potential windfall for a state is alluring. A manufacturer requires suppliers. Entice the company to come to you instead of someplace else, and maybe an entire industry will crop up to work near the first business. Suddenly, you have many more jobs than what you first paid for, and a revitalized service industry may grow to attend to the larger population. Those people pay their taxes, and in the end, the benefits could outweigh the bargain given out. This idea has guided the thinking behind tax incentives, and helped build the deals into the behemoth they are today. The Tesla deal is just the latest example: Nevada estimates that the factory will bring 6,500 "direct" jobs but 22,700 "total" jobs to the state.

... A deal may bring more jobs, but it might also create other financial consequences, like a need for stronger infrastructure to service a town increasingly populated by factory workers. Ultimately, the deals "aren’t a huge money-maker" for a state, [Upjohn Institute for Employment Research economist Timothy] Bartik says, even if jobs are created. It’s not yet clear what those secondary changes will look like for the Gigafactory, but the state’s report mentions that more jobs will be needed to support "significant construction related to transportation and utility infrastructure as well as employee housing." The people filling those jobs, the report points out, "would generate sales and property taxes at the full unabated rate."

So maybe Tesla's arrival is a glorious boon to Reno -- and maybe not. Residents will see.

Meanwhile, campaigning in Reno, knocking on doors, we learn that residents feel their city is changing. There are more cars, more people, more traffic, higher rents, more homelessness -- but yes, the economy is booming for many. Reno's experiment with trying to become the site of a new industrial economy is a work in progress. Disruption is keenly felt, though without yet a conclusive verdict on its benefits and costs and on who pays those costs.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Where the brains are

Maybe somehow the fact that the Trump administration is backward-looking, braindead, simply stupid in a public policy sense is why big US corporations seem to be seeing wisdom in appearing smart.
  • Item: Amazon raises its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all its employees. Derek Thompson offers a range is explanations for Amazon's move. Maybe the company is responding to the pressure a full employment economy puts on companies to raise wages when workers might have a choice to go elsewhere. Maybe Amazon hopes that setting a higher industry standard will thin out its competitive environment by stressing weaker companies which can't afford to match its wage rate. Maybe it's all about selling Jeff Bezos as a good guy, one step ahead of anti-trust attacks. In any case, Amazon's move is strategic, evidently the product of long term calculations, neither merely unimaginative nor impulsive.
  • Item: Nike makes Colin Kaepernick the face of a major corporate branding campaign. The company has made a bet that an activist hero of the struggle for racial justice can be the future of sales of sports consumption apparel and shoes. It knows its market; it knows among whom growth is possible; it relishes the heat it takes from grumpy old white men who aren't part of its market. It's strategic and bold in a self-interested way.
Has all the smarts in this country moved into high tech retail? The present moment makes one wonder.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

What it is really like to work on a campaign: you start making jokes out of your messages

After being part of a tight knit community of committed labor union canvassers who knock on voters' doors six days a week for a long month, a little humor keeps the spirits up. We've been doing alright in conversations with voters delivered more soberly ... but hey, how about a punchier version.

Erudite Partner took a shot at putting the messages we share with voters every day into livelier language. Here's her pitch:

Nevada senate Republican candidate
DEAN is HELLER bad news for working people!
Heller doesn’t care about health care. First he said he would protect the millions of working people who got health coverage through Obamacare. But as soon as Donald Trump put on the pressure, he changed his mind. Heller bad news!

Heller’s support comes from billionaires and bosses. His biggest funders include the right-wing Las Vegas casino boss and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has given to Heller both directly and through his $25 million donation to the Republican Senate Leadership Fund. Heller bad news!

Heller doesn’t care about women’s issues. When women came forward accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, he said it was just a “hiccup” in the confirmation process. Sexual assault is a hiccup? Heller bad news!

JACKY ROSEN, Heller’s opponent in the senate race, is the only choice for working people in Nevada. She wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, save health coverage for all of us, and make sure everyone has access to a good education.
Take Adam Laxalt, Republican candidate for Nevada governor,
Laxalt wants to take hundreds of millions of dollars away from Nevada’s public schools, by getting rid of the Commerce Tax, a bipartisan education funding initiative championed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. Yet Laxalt says he supports education. Take that with a grain of LAXALT!

Laxalt changed his name to take advantage of his family connection to former Nevada Senator and Governor Paul Laxalt. But he’s actually spent most of his life in suburban Virginia, outside Washington, DC. As Nevada’s attorney general, he imported his staff of lawyers from Washington. Even his cousins, attorney and author Monique Laxalt and Dr. Kristin Laxalt, who are daughters of Paul Laxalt’s brother, are supporting Laxalt’s opponent, Democrat Steve Sisolak. Take Laxalt’s Nevada roots with a grain of LAXALT!

Laxalt would deprive 200,000 Nevadans of the health coverage they’ve received through Gov. Brian Sandoval’s expansion of Medicaid. While ignoring the needs of working people Laxalt serves the interests of his ultra-rich donors. Take his concerns about health care with a grain of LAXALT!

STEVE SISOLAK, Laxalt’s opponent in the governor’s race, is the only choice for working families. He wants to expand, not reduce, education spending. He wants to keep the federal funds Nevada receives for Medicaid expansion. And he’s committed to training young people for well-paying jobs in a variety of industries.
Not bad, but we'll probably go on trying to have sober, empathetic conversations with Washoe County voters, learning of their struggles and their hopes while explaining the hopes and plans of our candidates. 35,000 doors so far... Rosen and Sisolak have tiny leads in the polls at present, but they are going to need every voter we can turn out.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Shrugs all around

It was easy to miss during the week of the assault on decent feelings that is Brett Kavanaugh's exaltation, but I have to mark that the Trumpies are now affirming that global warming is real and upon us.

Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous seven degrees by the end of this century.

A rise of seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.

... “The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it,” said Michael MacCracken, who served as a senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002.

They are not interested in saving human and other life from climate disaster. All they care about are the Koch Bros. profits.
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