Thursday, April 25, 2019

Nevada going green

That election we all worked so hard to swing Democratic in 2018 in Nevada keeps on delivering. Here's Nevada's new governor Steve Sisolak signing a bill banning fossil fuel generated electricity by 2050.
Scads of Californians didn't come to California to work in the state governor race; we wanted another Democratic senator and helped Jacky Rosen win. But since our union sponsors in UniteHERE endorsed Sisolak (try training canvassers to pronounce SISOLAK), we carried his name to thousands of voters and helped Nevadans send this Democrat to the state capital.

The new law just signed:

sets a goal of getting all of the Silver State’s power from carbon-free sources by 2050 and requires 50 percent of its supply to come from renewables by 2030, according to an e-mailed statement.

Nevada becomes the fourth U.S. state to commit to 100 percent clean energy, joining its bigger neighbor California as well as Hawaii and New Mexico.

Bloomberg, April 22, 2019

H/t Grist.

Our pointless war without end

I cannot leave this unremarked. After 18 years of the U.S. making war in Afghanistan, ostensibly with the purpose of rooting out murderous local terrorist factions, the U.N. finds that we and the hapless "government" we prop up have pulled into the lead in killing civilians.

KABUL, Afghanistan — For the first time since the United Nations began documenting civilian casualties in Afghanistan a decade ago, more civilians are being killed by Afghan government and American forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents, according to a report on Wednesday.

... quarterly numbers may reflect an increasing reliance on airstrikes in a war in which Afghan security forces tend to hunker down in fortified bases rather than mount aggressive assaults against Taliban fighters. When attacked, Afghan forces often call for airstrikes by the American-trained Afghan Air Force to dislodge the enemy.

Aerial operations were the third-highest cause of civilian casualties, killing 145 civilians and wounding 83 during the quarter — a 41 percent increase for those type of casualties compared with the same quarter in 2018. The report attributed almost all of those casualties to American airstrikes.

“A shocking number of civilians continue to be killed and maimed each day,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the United Nations secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement. “All parties must do more to safeguard civilians.”

New York Times, April 24, 2019

The article goes on to report that 2018 was the deadliest year for civilians since the U.N. began counting in 2009. This is not getting better. There are 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 18 years of fruitless war.

I'm totally prepared to grant that the U.S. military is (mostly) not trying to kill non-combatants. But what are they supposed to accomplish in this endless, failed war?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Just for fun

Running along the Bay this morning south of Coyote Point, I noticed a few Canada geese where I expect only egrets and sea gulls. The world-champion grass processors are spreading out, I mused. I have years of experience running through crowds of Canada geese around Lake Merritt and near Crown Beach.

This engrossing video explains how we came to be overrun by Canada geese. Enjoy.

Much more here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Are some people too old to run for president?

A few weeks ago, Robert G. Kaiser, a former managing editor of The Washington Post, broached this quasi-taboo question. He is 76. He asks:

Can politicians our age be effective presidents?

Good journalist that he is, he queried academics who study old people. A couple of comments:

  • “If talking about someone’s age is taboo and we are immediately accused of ageism, then that shuts down the discourse,” argues Jennifer Sasser, 52, a gerontologist at Oregon State University. A 70-year-old candidate “will have 20 more years of lived experience than a 50-year-old, and that translates not only into potential expertise but also a richer mind,” Sasser says. But “you can’t stay at the height of your capacity forever. That’s not the trajectory. We do become less energetic. Our bodies and minds do change.”
  • “Age per se should not disqualify a candidate,” says Denise C. Park, 67, a psychologist who founded the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Older brains are packed with knowledge and experiences that may constitute ‘wisdom’ and would help a president perform well in office,” she said, but she added that age obviously brings certain costs, “specifically in their capacity for quick processing of new information, remembering details, and the ability to process and use new information.” ... “All brains show some degradation over time, but the fact that older people have degraded brains does not necessarily mean [they have] less useful mental skills,” she observed. “The additional knowledge and experience that comes with age may compensate for this.”

My friend Ronni Bennett whose blog on aging is essential reading for anyone who cares about old people or is one, threw the issue open to her very smart, very generous, comment section. Two sage responses:

  • During the last presidential campaign, I kept asking how Trump and Clinton could keep up the pace of campaigning at their ages. My husband answered, "They have staff."
  • Some people maintain a high level of mental functioning into their 80s and 90s. {May I be so fortunate!} Nobody maintains a high level of physical function so late in life.

I come to the question from the experience last fall of working on an election while 71. This was not running for office, but facilitating one tiny cog in the complex human machine that is a successful campaign. Nothing short of going to war or possibly professional athletic competition requires more concentrated focus and aggressive implementation than executing a campaign well.

I've spent decades doing this work at various levels of campaign hierarchy and I knew what was needed from me. I was happy to discover that I could still do it. I didn't lose details, could switch gears on a dime when needed, and retained the ability to see bottlenecks coming and evade them. I trust that those with whom I worked found me a useful addition to the project.

And after we won, I was drained. That's normal. But recovery from a campaign used to take me a four to six weeks. This time it took months; I may not be quite recovered yet.

A person over age 70 who ran for president would indeed have staff. But nonetheless, the U.S. president performs one of the most intense, multi-faceted, political jobs in world while surrounded by a cacophony of demanding friends and a mob of hostile detractors. I question whether any of us who have reached a certain age could sustain our performance at peak level under these demands. (The current incumbent seems to be dealing with the impossible job by doing as little as possible except ignorant tweeting and incitement of hatred.)

A younger person may not have the accumulated wisdom we hope we gain as we age. But that younger person will also be a native to the culture and context in which we now live. For those of us over 70, the native culture of our youth was family memories of our parents' experience of the Great Depression and European fascism, followed by the Cold War, fear of the Bomb, the immoral war on Vietnam, and the vast social upheavals resulting from Black, brown, and many women's freedom struggles. All that is ancient history now, even for the youngest Boomers like Barack Obama.

As the abolitionist James Russell Lowell wrote in a previous era of change: "new occasions teach new duties." It's peak season for people who came up after Reagan and the GOPers freed predatory capitalism from social welfare constraints, after the end of the Cold War, after 9/11, after Abu Ghraib, after the 2008 Great Recession, after the world was enlarged and infected by digital media, after going to college meant taking on debt for decades, after the country was primed to be conned by a greedy, immoral TV cartoon character.

I want a president who is native to this time, to now. And that come close to cutting out the Democratic aspirants who are over 70, even if I feel aligned with them. Of course I'll work to elect whoever emerges from the nomination process, but sadly, too many of these candidates look to me too old for the job.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Working just the way it's supposed to ...

the Republican plan to sabotage access to health care, that is.

While many citizens were distracted by the Mueller Report, Easter, Passover, and 4/20, the Congressional Budget Office tells us that about 1.4 million more people were uninsured in 2018 than in 2017.

According to Sarah Kliff at Vox, all the GOP noise about repealing Obamacare has convinced many citizens that the program no longer exists -- she cites one poll where 31 percent believed that. It stands to reason you are not going to sign up for something you don't think is available, especially as the Trump administration has cut funding for public service ads.

And that's without the work requirements imposed on Medicaid recipients under Health and Human Services department regulatory waivers; these create a mountain of paper work and reporting requirements more likely to trip up and frustrate ordinary, over-stressed people than to catch cheats.

Republicans still have the same health care plan they've always had: if you aren't rich, go die.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Jesus is not here ...

The tomb is empty. The one who was crucified is not here.

The dominion of death is no more.

Christ is risen ... Hope does not die ... Love lives ... Alleluia

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Earth Day 2019

Crazy, corny, happy exhortation for a crazy humanity. Enjoy and live on.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Of human rights and social rights

Samuel Moyn's Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World is a sophisticated historical argument for the thesis stated in its title. His introduction explains:

No one ought to be treated differently because of the kind of person they are -- on the basis of gender or race, for example. ... When it comes to what share people ought to get of the good things in life, however, consensus is much harder to achieve. ...

Moyn contrasts "human rights" -- claims for equal treatment for all varieties of humanity -- with "economic and social rights" which imply a moral imperative for distributional equality.

This is a history of western (particularly European) "rights" theories, practices, and agitation, beginning with the brief Jacobin "welfare state" which acquired a second act in the post-Great Depression and socially mobilized states that emerged from World War II. Notions of distributive justice that emerged there, and in the New International Economic Order championed by the decolonized states of Asia, Africa and Latin America, have given way to a dominant market fundamentalism -- neoliberalism -- which allows at its best for social provision of minimum sufficiency and anti-poverty charity. Through contemporary elites' choice to focus on "human rights -- equality before the law which includes the right to sleep under bridges -- the ever-urgent, unending, human quest for a just society has been deflected and then buried. Or so Moyn argues.

This is a potent case. I can look at the same evidence, read the same texts, study the history, and arrive at the similar conclusions, though perhaps with slightly different emphases. Yet I am uncomfortable leaving it there.

Perhaps this is because, from the life experience of a woman of non-standard sexuality, despite enjoying always the material fact of more-than-enough, it's hard for me to feel that society's concession of my full humanity is a minor gain. In the parts of the world where white men still call the tune -- and that is most of the world -- my kind still face an existential struggle over the definition of "human." This doesn't go away. How much more fierce might that struggle feel to those who are "non-white"?

Moyn knows justice is not simple; he's retrieving what he thinks we have suppressed -- and he's not wrong to want to raise it up. From his conclusion:

Human rights became our highest ideals only as material hierarchy remained endemic or worsened. It was both a breakthrough of conscience and an immense reversal. Human rights emerged as the highest morality of an unequal world ... Human rights will return to their defensible importance only as soon as humanity saves itself from its low ambitions. If it does, for the sake of local and global welfare, sufficiency and equality can again become powerful companions, both in our moral lives and in our political enterprises.

This is not the sort of stuff that gets us to the barricades -- but perhaps this is necessary intellectual armament for a long march.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Arizona on my mind

Yesterday an update and fundraising appeal from the ACLU dropped in my email. By random chance I happened to open it (can't open 'em all.) As per usual, the ACLU is doing vital work.

In this case, the legal eagles are challenging an attempt by Arizona legislators to bar participation in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement "to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law." The details are intricate as they often are, but according to the ACLU, this seems the crux:

Last year, an Arizona federal court blocked the state from enforcing its anti-boycott law, ruling that the law — which requires government contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank — violates the First Amendment.

Can't do that. BDS is a non-violent response to violent oppression, well within anyone in this country's free speech rights.

The case reminded me that Arizona has a history with boycotts -- boycotts of Arizona. The state was the target of a boycott when it legislated against the Martin Luther King day holiday; Phoenix lost a scheduled Super Bowl in 1993 over that one. Legislators learned that boycotts can hurt. Arizona attracted another high profile boycott in 2010 when it passed a law which directed local law enforcement to question people's immigration status, incentivizing racial profiling.

But the Arizona boycott law I remember vividly from personal experience was the state's attempt to outlaw the efforts of the United Farm Workers Union to organize in 1972. The UFW was profoundly dependent on support from urban liberals across the country for boycotts of grapes and lettuce in support of the people in the fields. (In fact it may have been far better at this tactic than at actually attracting and holding worker support.) Media suggested overzealous Arizona sheriffs were stopping and harassing motorists whose cars bore the then-ubiquitous bumpersticker "Boycott Grapes." Approaching the state while driving cross-country that spring with a carload of UFW vets, we wondered, should we remove our stickers? We didn't and had no problem. After all, we were all white.

These days, Arizona is yet another state where urbanization and demography are ever-so-slowly pulling the state away from its racist conservative past. Will the change be reflected in its politics, if not in 2020, perhaps in the next decade?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

We elected some good ones in 2018

Here Congresswoman Katie Porter schools JPMorganChase billionaire Jamie Dimon on life in the low-wage world his corporation has built.

Porter flipped California's District 45 around Irvine last fall. Erudite Partner reports she uses the same home economics lesson Porter uses here with Dimon with her University of San Francisco undergrads.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

If you've got the 2019 blues, you are not alone

“Voters are still in the dating phase.” Democratic consultant Brian Brokaw

It would be wonderful if the Democratic presidential primary season were offering us all a chance to think about where we'd like the country to go and what policies would get us there.

But in truth, most people I know can't. The upcoming presidential election might well be our last chance to reclaim a democratic (small "d"), passably equitable, reasonably honest -- not to mention climatically stable -- future. The Republicans and their Orange-maned leader must be defeated -- or we believe, with plenty of evidence, the country is simply fucked.

And so, among the small minority paying attention, the primary campaign elicits anxiety that verges on terror rather than hope. Sure, we all pulled together and mostly kicked butt in the 2018 midterms, but can we really do it in 2020?

Because people think I know something about politics, I get asked all the time about the 2020 race and the candidates. I'm not stating any preferences. I'll have some I'm sure, but I'll work for anyone the Democrats nominate. Even the most mealy-mouthed and compromised among of them would give the country a better shot at equity and justice than Trump. And I have very little patience for anyone who can't get their head around that fact. There's not a chance this will be easy.

A few pundits have offered observations on the primary that seem worth passing on. Anyone who has actually canvassed among ordinary voters knows that most of them have far less developed political opinions and preferences than we, the political junkies. This sort of thing doesn't consume their lives and often they make the electoral choices they make far more out of instinct and feeling than careful weighing of policy stances. That goes double for primary voting. Political scientist David A. Hopkins studies presidential primaries:

A reliable rule of thumb about nomination politics is that when voters are required to make an electoral choice among multiple candidates within the same party, their preferences will be relatively weak, unpredictable, based on limited information, and open to change up until the moment they cast their ballots.

It can be easy to impose a clever and plausible-sounding analytical structure on the process in advance, or to explain in retrospect why one candidate won more support than another. But in the midst of the action, there is plenty about nominations that resists straightforward interpretation or forecasting. And the larger the field of contenders, the more complicated things get.

That is, don't believe everything you read; it may, or may not, have any factual basis.

Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman warns about another peril for primary voters -- overthinking.

... there’s something inherently problematic in making judgments about electability. That’s not just because people are usually pretty bad at it, but also because it means that instead of deciding which candidate you like, you’ll base your vote on which  candidate you think other people will like.

... But no matter how much you might want to defeat Trump, it’s a much better idea to think about which candidate you like, rather than try to predict which candidate might be able to appeal to some white guy sitting in a diner in Waukesha, Wis. That seldom ends well.

We all need to take our best shot in the primary, and then put our shoulders to the wheel in 2020, working as if our lives and the lives of those we love depend on the outcome. It might.
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