Friday, February 22, 2019

More than ready for a Green New Deal

Climate activists rallied outside Diane Feinstein's San Francisco office this morning; they know what they want from their Senator.


SEIU Local 1021 which represents local government and some healthcare employees sent a speaker.

But most heartening, Youth vs Apocalypse and #usclimatestrike announced the upcoming student climate walkout planned for March 15. Their time is now.

Friday cat blogging

In general, while Walking San Francisco, I don't see that many outdoor cats. Too many cars around here. But the other day, in what is a pretty posh neighborhood, this beauty crossed the sidewalk ahead of me.
Instead of hiding, this cat came right up to the stranger with the camera, rubbed, and confidently asked to be patted. Oh, such security!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Just for fun

I found this video delicious, perhaps because I was the sort of child who would have delighted in such a "playground." I don't remember there being any playgrounds in the urban neighborhood where I grew up. There was the street -- not heavily traveled, good for playing catch or in winter throwing snowballs at cars. There were back yards, some accessed by wandering up some neighbor's driveway, others by climbing a fence. There were garages -- ostensibly off limits, though not always in actuality. And, best of all, there were garage roofs, sometimes reached by climbing power poles. At best, it was possible to traverse multiple yards jumping from roof to roof.

My entire childhood urban landscape was an "adventure playground." We amused ourselves for hours without adult supervision. Yes, there was risk ... but we lived through it; I don't even remember any terrible injuries.

Enduring hope

Writer and producer Reniqua Allen offers an essay on the lives of black millennials in the New Republic. I found it haunting.

To comprehend the black millennial experience in America is to comprehend what it means to hope. Not in a feel-good way, not in a naive way, but in a desperate way, as a way of life, because the alternative is unacceptable. This is the story of black America, a story of strength and overcoming. But I sometimes wonder: When do we give up? When will hope fade? I am reminded constantly that, despite the hope of a black president, it was under his watch that the movement for black lives started. And it’s in his shadow that a racist president exists.

Go read it all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

We know what we have to do ...

If Donald Trump had declared his trumped up "state of emergency" two years ago, I'd have been terrified. Now I'm just pissed off at his latest attempt to invent his own reality. He's a fabulist with too damn much power. Real people get hurt everyday while he tries to implement his racist dreams and, more quietly, his GOP enablers do actual damage to country and system of government.

As Daniel Drezner explains succinctly:

... Trump is a weak, disorganized president. But the office he occupies is so strong that even a weak-minded fool can leave lasting scars.

It's worth remembering that most of us are still not taken in by Trump's rambling bluster. According to a recent poll:

Fifty-six percent to 33 percent, more say they trust Mueller’s version of the facts than Trump’s. And by nearly as wide a margin, more believe Mueller is mainly interested in “finding out the truth” than trying to “hurt Trump politically.”

The serious media seem to think the Mueller investigation is moving toward some kind of conclusion after all those indictments and even convictions, though why they think wrap-up is immediately pertinent is not obvious from where I sit. Just today, the New York Times and the Washington Post, always competing to readers' benefit, have attempted wrap-up stories about Trump's tangled skeins of Russian profiteering and betrayal.

In any case, looking ahead if we can just get there, though presidents are usually re-elected, Trump looks distinctly vulnerable. His predicament is simple and satisfying to those us who want a different country:

The president is running hard on a strategy of riling up his base. But by doing that, he riles up the Democratic base, too, and that one is bigger.

Nate Silver at 538 insists we don't have to fear that Trump is a political magician.

Trump does unpopular stuff, and he becomes more unpopular. The erosion mostly comes from independents because Republicans are highly loyal to him and Democrats are already almost uniformly opposed. But Trump will need those independents to win re-election. He needed them to become president in the first place.

Democrats simply have to nominate someone who large fractions of us don't find loathsome. According to Amy Walter at the Cook Political Report who is no partisan:

... the battle for the 'ambivalent' voter as the most critical piece of the 2020 strategy. Trump has done little in his tenure in office to woo those not already in his base. The only question now is if Democrats will nominate a candidate who can appeal to these voters, or if they will choose a flawed candidate who will, once again, force these voters into having to decide between the "best-worst-choice."

We know what we have to do ... unify, work, and turn out everyone who would rather chase hope than wallow in fear. We can do that.

Photo from a window at a card shop on San Francisco's hippest street. Thanks Serendipity.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

#NotMyPresident Day 2019 in San Francisco

As a speaker from Indivisible SF reminded a crowd of several hundred people at the Federal Building, this was our third observance of Not My President Day. We remain determined.


We're not feeling respectful.

We are not impressed.

We are not complacent.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Reflections on the making of a world class athlete

At this moment in time, my courtesy niece, Tara Geraghty-Moats, is the most successful Nordic Combined Women's competitor in the world. The sport, which consists of ski jumping and cross-country racing, has just opened to women this season. Tara has won the first seven high level international competitions, most recently in Rena, Norway.

I've had the privilege of watching this world class athlete come into her own. What did that require of her?

Well, first off, it required good genes. People who are capable of this level of excellence are different from the rest of us.

And it has required a lifetime of willingness to train her body to access her gifts and hone her technique to an exceptional edge. A lot of that was simply grit: day after day driving her body, often in dark and cold. Fortunately, she says this is what she delights in. Top of the line performance probably requires that quirk of character.

But there's so much more. In Tara's case, it has required recovery and rehab from a series of devastating injuries -- two blown-out knees and a smashed arm. This habit of jumping off 100 meter hills isn't for sissies. But she has found flying over snow worth the attendant pain.

And then, there's the fundraising. Nordic sports aren't cheap, especially at the elite level. Competition requires specialized equipment suitable for each setting and every possibility. And winter athletes have to travel widely and frequently to train and race where the hills and snow are located. As a new sport, Women's Nordic Combined has not got much institutional support. Tara, a working class rural young woman, has been piecing together the money to follow her vocation for over a decade. I got my first fundraising letter before she finished her high schooling. But more significantly, she's worked every off-season at a produce farm and pieced together local endorsements to scrape by. Perhaps with her current success, some of the big names in athletics will begin paying her bills. But this is no sure thing in an obscure discipline.

Finally, success for a world class athlete usually requires some level of emotional maturity, the capacity to overcome travel disorientation, anxiety, and pressure, again and again. The necessary focus could be called a positive obsession. This requirement contradicts another reality: world class athletes are usually quite young -- in their teens, twenties, maybe by a stretch their thirties. Yet the champions need to be able to find an inner even keel which is at odds with their own age, hormones, and experience. The ability to find this magic equilibrium may be as rare as those special genes.

It's a my delight to watch Tara finally able to earn recognition for her achievements.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ahead of his time; ready for our time

One hundred and fifty years ago, the abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass addressed the question that underlies the POTUS's immigration panic: what kind of country is this? Who is it for? Douglass did what remains "an amazing job" envisioning what we still find difficult: this is a "composite nation."

Listen up:

We have for along time hesitated to adopt and may yet refuse to adopt, and carry out, the only principle which can solve that difficulty and give peace, strength and security to the Republic, and that is the principle of absolute equality.

We are a country of all extremes—, ends and opposites; the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world. Our people defy all the ethnological and logical classifications. In races we range all the way from black to white, with intermediate shades which, as in the apocalyptic vision, no man can name a number.

In regard to creeds and faiths, the condition is no better, and no worse. Differences both as to race and to religion are evidently more likely to increase than to diminish.

Based on his observation of reality, he refused to be panicked by Chinese immigration; by his account, thousands of laborers were already resident, building the railroads.

... I believe that Chinese immigration on a large scale will yet be our irrepressible fact. The spirit of race pride will not always prevail. ... Assuming then that this immigration already has a foothold and will continue for many years to come, we have a new element in our national composition which is likely to exercise a large influence upon the thought and the action of the whole nation. ...

If this prospect alarmed his fellow citizens, they should get over it. He addresses the white portion of the U.S. population, but not them alone.

... There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are external, universal, and indestructible. Among these, is the right of locomotion; the right of migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike. It is the right you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming here. It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves, now and forever. I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a supposed conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go to the side of humanity. I have great respect for the blue eyed and light haired races of America. They are a mighty people. In any struggle for the good things of this world they need have no fear. They have no need to doubt that they will get their full share.

But I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men.

I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours. Right wrongs no man. If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions. It would be a sad reflection upon the laws of nature and upon the idea of justice, to say nothing of a common Creator, if four fifths of mankind were deprived of the rights of migration to make room for the one fifth. ...

... The grand right of migration and the great wisdom of incorporating foreign elements into our body politic, are founded not upon any genealogical or archeological theory, however learned, but upon the broad fact of a common human nature.

For Douglass, free migration was a right arising out of humanity itself.

I've just learned that the Episcopal Church Calendar remembers the prophetic witness of Frederick Douglass on Wednesday, February 20.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Saturday scenes: planning for a new Tulip Bubble?

Somebody's front yard boasts quite a display.

Also their side yard.

All this in mid-winter too.
...
The Tulip Bubble (or mania) in Holland in the 1630s was the first instance of a recurrent feature of capitalism: in a sort of frenzy, speculators begin to ascribe fantastic values to assets which realistically are close to worthless. You know it is is bubble when the inevitable crash follows. (See also mortgage-backed securities with no underlying housing value in 2008.)

Just today in the tech section of the New York Times, it comes out that JPMorgan Chase has decided to jump into the crytocurrency market:

Despite questioning Bitcoin’s legitimacy, Mr. Dimon has said he recognizes blockchain’s potential in the future of the global financial system. And JPMorgan has already released a blockchain platform, Quorum, that several institutions are using to keep track of financial data.

With the announcement of its coin, JPMorgan is widening its experiment and moving to make the idea of digital currencies more palatable to its typically risk-averse corporate customers.

Do I sniff tulips?

Flowers encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, February 15, 2019

What will winter in San Francisco be like in 2080?

A clever mapping app hosted at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science provides some informed speculation, assuming we (the whole human race!) don't manage to halt our polluting carbon uses.

Folks should play around in it for some pretty daunting predictions. For example, it might be time to get out of Phoenix where winter is predicted to be 12.4°F warmer and 44% drier than today, more like Esperanza in central Mexico.

Friday cat blogging

Morty has perked up over the last few weeks. He still has a potent baleful stare.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thanks Minnesota!

The long suffering poor peasants of Central America have been waiting for this (and so much more) for 35 years. In this clip, Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar demands Trump's Venezuelan enforcer own up to our past imperial crimes in El Salvador and beyond -- Elliot Abrams clearly never thought such a non-person could be in a position question him. The old defender of death squads was taken aback. Per CNN:

"I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful," Omar said. When Abrams attempted to respond, she told him it was "not a question," to which Abrams countered that it was "an attack."

... The Minnesota Democrat also brought up Abrams' past comments on the US policy in El Salvador. Abrams called that policy "a fabulous achievement" and during a February 1982 Senate testimony, he appeared to downplay reports of a massacre in the Salvadoran town of El Mozote in December 1981. Nearly 1,000 people were killed in by US-trained and -equipped military units in that massacre -- it was the largest mass killing in recent Latin American history.

The seemingly endless migration of desperate people from devastated societies in Central America that Trump so abominates has much of its genesis in the exploits of swashbuckling Reagan-era imperialists of whom Abrams is the exemplar.

I carry no brief for today's Maduro government in Venezuela, but let's hope Abrams can be restrained from letting loose more of the same in that unhappy country.

Valentine for this country

Fine sentiments on the most sentimental of holidays.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Elections have consequences: Nevada Dems move gun background check bill

They aim to have the measure covering private gun sales signed by the one year anniversary of the Parkland High School mass shooting on February 14. Steve Sisolak, the new governor our Reno campaign helped elect, has promised to approve the legislation, commenting:

... in the long run I firmly believe it’s going to save lives.”

Nevada Democrats have been working for this for a long time. They passed a similar bill closing the gun show sales loop hole in their state in 2013; the Republican governor vetoed it. So they went the initiative route, passing a background check measure in 2016 when they also carried the state for Hillary Clinton. But their victory was extremely narrow, 10,000 votes or .9 percent of the the total. They carried only Clark County (Las Vegas). The measure was never implemented because of disputes over what branch of law enforcement would conduct the checks and the hostility Republican office holders. So today's victory for a small measure of gun control has been a long time coming.
...
Here in California where we have more gun control than anywhere else in the country, and look to win more in the current Dem legislature, it's worth remembering that this took a while and strange twists and turns facilitated it. In my memory, protesters could carry visible firearms into the state capital. (Unmentioned in the video, a failed attempt to recall Diane Feinstein when she was mayor of San Francisco in protest of our gun laws launched the now-seemingly perpetual Senator in our political universe.) Well worth a look.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The National Guard: ominous possibilities

Erudite Partner takes up the story of our "citizen soldiers" -- the various state National Guards.

... although President Obama officially ended Operation Enduring Freedom (the US’s post-9/11 war in Afghanistan) in 2014, the Guard continues to deploy to that very war zone, with 400 Illinois reservists, another 400 from Wisconsin, 100 from Georgia, 50 from Colorado, and 46 from New York sent there as recently as this December and January. And not only are they being deployed to Afghanistan, but they’re still dying there. Among the 60 sent from Utah in November 2018, for instance, was Brent Taylor, the mayor of the town of North Ogden, who was killed during an “insider attack” at a base in Kabul. Given the provisional peace agreement reportedly now being negotiated between the United States and the Taliban, there is at least a modest hope that the deployments of such part-time soldiers to America’s longest war may end in some imaginable future.

... the Guard now goes everywhere the regular Army and Air Force go. Its members have served in US conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, among other places. They are now deployed in at least 56 countries around the world, from Macedonia and Kosovo to Egypt, not to mention the Mexican border inside the United States.

Just this week, we learn that new Democratic governors in New Mexico and California are withdrawing their state Guard units from Trump's border charade. But she points out that U.S. authorities have used the Guard extensively within the country when they thought they could get away with it.

In 1894, the Illinois National Guard had a hand in putting down a national strike by railroad workers organized by the American Railroad Union. In 1914, the National Guard fired machine guns into a tent city of striking miners and their families in Ludlow, Colorado, killing more than 20 people. The mining company belonged to John D. Rockefeller Jr.

In more recent years, Guard members have been used less as violent strikebreakers than as scabs, replacing striking workers, especially in public-sector jobs. A 1982 study, for example, found that, over the previous decade, various units were called in 45 times to replace city or state employees, prison guards, mental-health workers, community transit workers, and—infamously—under President Ronald Reagan, air-traffic controllers.

In 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker threatened to bring in the National Guard if public-service workers went on strike. ...

She concludes:

God help us all if Donald Trump figures out that he’s actually the commander in chief of a force that, unlike the US military, can legally be deployed for law-enforcement purposes inside the United States itself. He remains a flailing, failing president, with the sensibility of an autocrat who, from the beginning of his time in office, has conflated the protection of the country with the protection of Donald J. Trump and his obsessions. While I don’t expect him to call out the National Guard to put down anti-Trump demonstrations any time soon, I didn’t expect him to be elected president either.

Read all about it.

Photo by Benjamin Faust on Unsplash.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Ageism or insight?


Over the weekend, a friend asked: "how we gonna find one of these Democrats who can beat Trump?" Not which Democratic presidential hopeful should we like, but which can win. I didn't know my own answer until it popped out of my mouth, but on reflection I think it is a good one: "The one who emerges from the scrum which is the process."

Whoever wins the nomination will have proved both a survivor and to have at least some appeal to broad swaths of the Big Tent into which GOPer corruption and the horror that is Trump have forced the majority of us. Many of us approach the process with more trepidation than hope. Sure, we'd like one whose policies prescriptions we can get behind, but we've seen enough to know we may not get more than modest enactments. We know we'll have to get behind whoever emerges as the candidate -- and then we'll have to do what we can where we are to put that person over the top.

David Weigel caught a common anxiety at a Corey Booker event in New Hampshire:

A recurring theme in conversations with voters at Booker's events was nervousness — a real dread about picking the wrong candidate, one who couldn't defeat the president. Annelie Heinen, a 35-year-old teacher who attended Booker's Waterloo roundtable, showed up wearing a “She Persisted” T-shirt, a reference to Booker's Senate colleague and presidential competitor Elizabeth Warren. But she said she was nervous about Warren's ability to win.

... A number of voters said that they were inspired by the more fiery rhetoric from other Democrats, but thought a more unifying, inspiring candidate could take a clear run at Trump.

Our anxiety to find a winner unfortunately tickles into life whatever racist, sexist, or ageist biases we bring to the process. The feeling lurks in us: Why of course So and So isn't the right choice! She/He/They can't bring together a majority of everybody.

In that light, I found this from Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal Constitution something to ponder:

Whatever else it will say about him, history will see Donald Trump as a marker in time that divides what came before him from what will come after him. He is a ridiculous figure, especially as president, but the fact that he was elected anyway demonstrates the bankruptcy of that previous era and the repudiation of an approach to politics that had grown stale and unresponsive.

... Through incompetence, ignorance and no small degree of malevolence, Trump is hastening the destruction of that previous world. Alliances, networks and understandings that had stood for decades are falling apart, quickly, but the truth is that all that was fated by time to crumble anyway. Wiser leadership would attempt to manage that decline while building replacements, but for the moment that is not the leadership that we have given ourselves.

Today’s challenges — climate change, unsustainable economic disparity, technological disruption, the rationalization of a dysfunctional health-care system, the restraint and redirection of nationalist passions, the growing despair and addiction in those parts of America left behind by change — these are the troubles that must now be addressed. Voters will want and deserve fresh voices and insight into tackling them. It’s time to move forward, not reach back.

How could I not agree? But Bookman's conclusion is that Kerry (is he running too?), Sanders, Biden, and Warren just can't cut it. He concedes ...

None of the four shows any signs of age-related issues, and they are all perfectly capable of significant continued service. But in part because of their age and their long resumes, they will inevitably be identified with an era that seems increasingly irrelevant.

I instinctively agree with Bookman's substance -- this is a new time calling for a nominee who can point forward.

But is the fear that these worthies not just are up to it merely ageism -- a rejection of the possibility that elders might have learned a thing or two while deepening vision and hope?

I am torn. I've joked that no one older than I am should run for President (that would cut out all of these except Warren and she's close.) But that sentiment is no joking matter -- it throws away hard won experience and knowledge.

But this must be a new time -- how much does age matter? Can an older person look ahead? Can an older person lead toward a better future?

What do you think?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

International corporations feel the threat


I'm old fashioned. I'm a lot more concerned by the population's inability to discern lies and scams in our governing institutions than the damage these contemporary realities do to world beating businesses.

And as the article concedes, the corporations do have some legal recourse when trolled or defamed. In this country, our attachment to free speech mostly means politicians and public figures have no recourse against bullshit.

Except truth. Always under threat, hard to completely suppress if people choose to care about it.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Last rites for the condemned

This week the Supreme Court, by the grace of Justice "Balls and Strikes" Roberts, decided they should not make legal abortions completely unavailable in Louisiana. One can only be glad for this unexpected and probably momentary reprieve for women's freedom to control our bodies -- but the report of that case wasn't the Court action which took my breath away.

The conservative five (Roberts rejoining his team on this one) had also voted not to stay the execution of an Alabama death row prisoner, Domineque Ray, because he has waited too long to raise his issue. Justice Elena Kagan explained in dissent:

Under Alabama’s policy, Justice Kagan wrote, “a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites.”

“But if an inmate practices a different religion — whether Islam, Judaism or any other — he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side,” Justice Kagan wrote.

“That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality,” she added, referring to the clause of the First Amendment that bars the government from favoring one religious denomination over another.

Seems kind of obvious, doesn't it? But apparently the obvious is not good enough when Alabama is set on death.
...
Anthony Ray Hinton survived nearly 30 years on Alabama's death row trying to convince a racist system that he had nothing to do with the murders for which he was convicted. At great length, and thanks to the Supreme Court on one of its better days, the work of Attorney Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) forced the state to exonerate him. He tells the story in The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row.

The book is a true tale of horror: local white prosecutors, police, and lawyers needed someone to blame for two brutal murders; Hinton was quite simply the Negro they picked out to convict of crimes that were never really investigated. He had a strong alibi and no provable connection to the murders -- but he'd do as the scapegoat. And so off he was sent to death row at Holman Prison.

And once there, he learned to survive. He learned to survive by learning what the system that sent him away could never envision: that all men, even the many actual murderers who were his only companions, were "not the worst thing we had ever done."

He started a book club among the inmates. They read James Baldwin and Maya Angelou. They yelled to each through the bars. They banged on the bars for hours in acknowledgement when one of them was taken to his death.

Hinton made a friend, one Henry Hays, a white man. Gradually, he figured out that this Henry had been convicted for the 1981 lynching of a black boy in Mobile. (Stevenson's Legacy Museum labels this "the last lynching.") The two men could agree that they both wished their lives had been different. Hinton explains:

Sometimes you need to make a family where you find it, and I knew that to survive I had to make a family of these men and they had to make a family of me. ...

Henry Hays was executed during Hinton's long incarceration:

I could hear that Henry was crying, and my heart broke for him. In the end, none of it mattered. Who you were, what color your skin was, what you had done, whether you showed your victim compassion at the time of his death -- none of it mattered. There was no past and no future on the row. We had only the moment we were in, and when you tried to survive moment to moment, there wasn't the luxury of judgment. Henry was my friend. It wasn't complicated. I would show him compassion, because that is how I was raised ...

At a few minutes before midnight on June 5, I stood at the door of my cell. I took off my shoe, and I started banging on the bars and wire. I wanted Henry to hear me. I wanted him to know he wasn't alone. I knew when they shaved his head, and I knew when the generator kicked on. I banged louder, as did every guy up and down our tier and every tier. ...

One wonders, did the men bang the bars on last Thursday for Domineque Ray, the man the Supremes denied the comfort of the presence of his imam? One imagines they did. EJI makes a plausible claim that Ray's conviction should have been re-examined before the state could take his life -- but this was not to be.
...
I read Anthony Ray Hinton's story in an audio edition. Highly recommended. This is not the downer you may fear.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Friday cat blogging

What a good looking fellow!

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

The tech economy boom at ground zero

It is a witness to the out-of-control cost of San Francisco living space that when you live close to a transit hub, offers like this flyer pop up in the snail mail. After all, you don't use all your residence 24 hours every day; you could perhaps squeeze a few dollars out of your overpriced property by renting use of it out as an informal office facility.

During the internet boom of 2000, we were astonished to realize that behind us the basement of the single room occupancy hotel had been fitted out with banks of computers and made into a sort of call center -- briefly, until whatever was being sold there crashed. That building then reverted to serving as minimal housing of last resort for low wage workers and other poor people, as it does to this day. I can only wonder for how long until it becomes worthwhile for some developer to gut and repurpose.

Tech wealth isn't going to go bust this time around. So its imperative had become to monetize and colonize our living rooms.

No, we're not going to do it, because we are fortunate not to have. But given what people pay to live here, I have no doubt that this company will find takers in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

This woman has a future

Supporters of Stacey Abrams' new organization to fight voter suppression, Fair Fight, gathered in a Mission Street bar last night to boo the opening act and cheer this amazing leader.

In this struggle, we have to be in for the long haul.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

What to do about Facebook?

Or is it? Sign from Occupy 2012
Anne Applebaum writes that we must somehow regulate Facebook, proclaiming: The future of democracy is at stake. She likens our love/hate relationship with the behemoth to radio's value to totalitarians in the 1930's, pointing to Hitler's broadcast bile. (She also name checks Stalin although a cursory web search on Soviet radio suggests it was more mind-numbingly boring than effective propaganda -- not wide enough access.) She points out that at present we are leaving the decisions as to what flies in social media to the profit-seeking tech entrepreneurs who own the companies and who have not necessarily demonstrated they have the interests of society at heart. She concludes
If we don’t do it [regulate] — if we don’t even try — we will not be able to ensure the integrity of elections or the decency of the public sphere. If we don’t do it, in the long term there won’t even be a public sphere, and there won’t be functional democracies anymore, either.
That is, she's fully on the war path.

The hook for Applebaum's article is that Facebook, after over a year of cooperation, decided without notice or explanation to deactivate ProPublica's browser plug-in which tracked what political ads were targeted to users who installed it. I knew that; my Facebook feed stopped allowing me to post articles with previews one day recently and began flipping around randomly. By trial and error, I figured it was the ProPublica thing, removed it, and the feed now mostly works as I'd come to expect it to.

So I very much get Applebaum's point; Mark Zuckerberg is offering a front end view of our world that masquerades as a neutral public utility -- until he wants to control how we use his toy marketing environment.

Whether we think Facebook should be regulated hangs a lot on what we think it is/how we choose to use it. If it is primarily a venue to socialize and share fun stuff for which we pay by getting ads thrown in our faces, it's just a another slightly more friendly broadcast medium -- like TV, but addictingly interactive. If we use it as a source of information without a lot of discernment, we're nuts. I wouldn't look at anything cute or adrenaline-raising on Facebook unless I would be willing to browse the website that hosts it directly. That deprives me of some potential web connections, but it seems worth it. If I looked at a bunch of venues I'd never heard of, then I'd have to research them for accuracy. I'm used to the inaccuracies and coverage lapses of my known media outlets.

I participate in Facebook because I share my blog posts in that venue -- that is I'm broadcasting. Facebook doesn't seem to show my stuff around much; don't know if that's because my friends aren't interested (their right) or because of some incompatibility with the algorithm.

My blog appears in 3 1/2 web places: its home page: via Twitter automatically; on Facebook which I have kept up manually since August when the platform broke the auto-post function I had used; and intermittently as a "diary" on Daily Kos when the subject matter seems appropriate. I have friends who do not overlap in all those venues. That's okay with me, though I suspect it is not so okay with Mr. Zuckerberg's world-engulfing dreams.

There is something wrong with the reality that a private company -- a private person in fact -- determines what we get to see on such a vital access point for so many. And there's something wrong with the fact that media organizations have built their distribution mechanisms around Facebook only to find that an unpredictable algorithm has tweaked them away from their audience.

Vox has published a sort of symposium marking Facebook's 15th anniversary. Some entries were thought provoking:
  • Meredith Broussard: We need more regulation of Facebook and tech companies. I think that we have done the experiments of “let’s try this and see how it goes.” And it has not gone as well as we have hoped. We need to have a conversation about this, as a public and as a community. I think part of the problem has been that we have a couple of a couple of people saying that this is how it’s going to be and trying to govern tech as a dictatorship. I think we’re a democracy, and we need to have a public conversation about it.
  • Aminatou Sow: ... as citizens we cannot outsource our privacy and security to tech moguls. They always have ulterior motives and we are pawns in their game. We are living the consequences.
  • Peter W. Singer: Facebook is a kind of mirror of what exists in real life. We use it, and the network of companies it’s bought — from Instagram to WhatsApp — to reflect out to the world the stories of our lives. ... The question of its net positive or negative, thus, will be answered by what we see in that mirror, and what each of us chooses to do about it.
  • Antonio Garcia-Martinez: Technologies, particularly in the media sphere, seem to inevitably move from improbable contraption, to dangerous tool whose implications are worryingly discussed, and thence to dull and semi-obsolete utility.
What do you think about our ubiquitous companion?

Monday, February 04, 2019

One-party California is here to stay


Back when the state of California was suffering through the racist initiative wars of the 1990s (187, 209, 227) Eva Patterson, then leading the northern California Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, used to sometimes console those of us working to stem the tide with the adage: "God doesn't like Ugly."

At the biennial UC Berkeley political consultant confab discussing the 2018 election results, luminaries from both parties and political academia agreed, the Ugly emanating from Donald Trump most likely has killed off the already weakened Republican Party in the state.

The once-powerful Republican brand — which helped elect all but three governors in the 20th century — has steadily weakened over the past 25 years, with Wilson —fairly or not — blamed for embracing the 1994 ballot measure aimed at curbing the costs of illegal immigration. The schism between Republicans and the state’s rapidly diversifying population widened with the passage of a 1996 statewide ballot measure attacking affirmative action and another in 1998 to limit bilingual education. A generation of Californians never forgot.

“The political forces that form your opinion when you’re young carry on,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the UC Berkeley poll.

California voters raised on the memories of 2018 could carry today’s political views for decades. And they’re already engaged: People 34 and younger cast ballots at a much higher rate in 2018 than in previous midterms, according to a new analysis by the for-profit research firm Political Data.

Perhaps just as consequential are those turned off by the Trump era. Political Data’s report found a number of young Republicans — generally more reliable voters than their Democratic-leaning peers — failed to show up in 2018. And broadly speaking, GOP voters in several key congressional races either didn’t vote or, as political strategist Mike Madrid pointed out, made the once-unthinkable decision to vote for a Democrat.

“I don’t think that will be healed for many election cycles to come,” Madrid, a former political director of the California Republican Party, told the Berkeley audience.

For veterans of the painfilled political seasons of the 1990s, this is sweet music indeed.

But celebrating state Democrats need to understand that just because the GOP is down and nearly out, politics doesn't end. Conflict merely moves within the dominant party. Californians have views and vital interests that clash and must be worked out within the political system. That's what a functioning democracy means. Let's try for as much integrity, honesty, and even unity in those conflicts within the Big Tent as possible.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Thirty-four years ago: was Timothy Lee lynched?

The emergence of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's blackface/Klansman 1984 yearbook photo has evoked historical commentary such as this:

The context is also important here. While some might be tempted to argue blackface wasn’t so taboo back in the early 1980s, this was an era in which Klan was still active and still violent near where Northam grew up in southern Virginia, as Jerald Lentini noted.

In 1979, Klansmen and members of the American Nazi Party killed five members of the Communist Workers Party in Greensboro, N.C. In 1980 in Chattanooga, Tenn., Klansmen wounded four black women with shotgun pellets and another with broken glass after shooting up a predominantly black neighborhood. The so-called “last lynching in America” was perpetrated by the Klan in 1981 in Mobile, Ala.

This last brought me up short. The date is probably accurate if the meaning of "lynching" is confined to racial terrorism perpetrated openly by whites who trusted they enjoyed the support of their community. But a few Northern Californians remember that on November 2, 1985, the body of Timothy Charles Lee was discovered hanging from a fig tree near the Concord BART station. Twenty-three year old Lee was both Black and gay. Twelve hours before his body was found, two men wearing white robes had attacked two black men in the parking lot of a nearby bar.

Concord police and the county coroner declared Lee a suicide who had somehow hung himself. Some neighbors reported hearing screams.

Ms. Hannum said she thought it was some sort of hazing. ″If I would have realized as terrible a thing was going on, I would have rushed out there, or called police,″ said Ms. Hannum. ″It didn’t leap to my mind that someone’s actually being murdered - and now I’m living with that.″

The NAACP called for an FBI investigation; the civil rights organization never received a satisfactory answer about how the young man came to be hanging from a tree.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

For Black history month ...

Go along on this pilgrimage by U.S. Muslim leaders in 2018 through the sites of Alabama's civil rights struggle and martyrdoms.

In the short film, Nihad Awad of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) preaches to a local group:

Muslims of Alabama ... you are surrounded by legacies of oppression. What went wrong then could go wrong again. What's the difference? We were not there hundreds of years ago; we are here today.

Indeed.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Tips for volunteering in the presidential primaries


A friend recently asked me for advice on how to get on board as a volunteer with the primary campaign of one of our aspiring Democratic presidents. After all, I work on campaigns and have experience with volunteers, so I should have ideas.

And I do have some tips, though these come with a caveat: I've never actually worked in a presidential primary campaign. (I'll explain that at the end of this post.) I'm neutral about the current field.

Let's say you want to volunteer for the candidate of your choice. It's likely to be harder than it seems it should be. Aren't campaigns all about engaging masses of people? Well, sometimes.
  • You want to do more than contribute money. Unfortunately, your labor may not be what the campaign wants from you. The most urgent need, for nearly all candidates all the time, is more cash.
  • Maybe you could help in a small way by raising money. We'll assume you don't have big bucks. But you could get some friends together, maybe show a campaign video, and raise a little something. The campaign might be grateful for the resulting check. But don't count on much support in the way of materials to give away or a staff speaker, if the anticipated haul is less than perhaps $5 or $10K. And whatever you do, make sure to comply with campaign finance disclosure laws -- otherwise your small money can be more trouble than assistance.
  • Primary campaigns from within are about throwing up temporary, usually flimsy, campaign infrastructure on the fly. Staff who opened a new office a week ago aren't likely to have developed work programs to plug supportive volunteers into, even if they wish they did. Finding the right desk chairs may seem a higher priority.
  • Campaigns at the launch stage usually assume they want to collect names and contact information from potential volunteers. But they are often have little capacity to sort and contact the potential people power they harvest. You can't assume that signing a volunteer form, or returning an email petition, or messaging through Twitter will evoke any response. Keep trying these approaches and you may hit the moment when your name comes up.
  • To successfully volunteer, it helps to find someone you know or can reach out to who is closer to the campaign than you are. Your contact might be someone in local Democratic politics or a member of an organization like a professional association or union that your candidate is close to/courting.
  • Eventually institutional players will follow their own internal processes and get involved. The smoothest way to find your way into a campaign is as a member of an endorsing union or Democratic club. But that avenue won't be available until these groups conduct their own internal processes. If you are a member of something that endorses, you can help your candidate win that endorsement.
  • Understand that what campaigns may most want from volunteers is visible crowds in the right places. Being there when your person is speaking or takes part in a broader Democratic cattle call for aspirants is a form of volunteer support. The campaign should be recruiting you to these events, but keep your eyes out too. Staff are imperfect. Learn all you can about who your candidate is trying to bring over to support and get yourself to likely occasions, perhaps wearing campaign gear. You'll likely meet sympathetic people.
  • Campaigns that are taking off figure out how to use volunteers eventually. Don't give up. If your candidate is thriving, you'll find a place before the big primary election. Learn about when your state primary happens, who can vote when, and how the primary results allocate Democratic convention delegates. You'll be an expert among your friends and increase your chances of bringing them out for your person.
I'm sure that readers will have additional suggestions; please drop them in comments.

...
For FWIW: I've never worked in a presidential primary and will be neutral for a long time in this Democratic primary. Eventually I will vote for someone ... and I'll support whatever Democrat emerges. Tolerance for lesser evils is a necessary part of electoral politics.

My attitude to all candidates is instrumental rather than enthusiastic. Before throwing down with any candidate, I ask myself where does this individual fit in the never completed project of making the country more fair, more generous, simply a better place for us and the world. I can support and work for very flawed candidates if, in a particular place and moment, their election will advance that project. I don't have to love the individual; I just have to think they'd help or avert hurt.

In the presidential sweepstakes, a calculating attitude is certainly appropriate. Nobody at that level is going to look perfect. These champions are not yet the standard bearers. They appeal by signifying potential directions and values for the country. Because I bring pretty well articulated values to the political fray and because I have a healthy sense of what a difficult job it is to flesh out any of what I hope for in our politics, I don't tend to fall in love at the primary stage -- or ever. Let's get what we can from these people and keep holding their feet to the fire.

Friday cat blogging

Morty has been a little under the weather lately, so he's been hiding under his play structure. Happily he seems to be healing, returning to his regular annoying self.
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