Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Outside our campaigning comfort zone

I have very warm feelings toward Doug Jones, the Democratic Alabama Senator whose surprise election in 2017 proved that Republicans had not completely lost all sense of decency when they flocked to Donald Trump. Jones had an appealing record, having prosecuted and convicted in 2001 two of the white men who bombed Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. He's an all round good guy and voters preferred him to a wacko racist and accused pedophile. Nobody (except maybe Jones' campaign) thinks deep red Alabama is likely to re-elect Jones in November; partisanship is too powerful for Alabama white voters. But Jones' campaign is taking a bold tack as he tries to hang on. He's accusing his opponent, college football coach Tommy Tuberville, of caring more for Donald Trump than for the citizens of the state. Take a look at this ad:
Jones aims straight at Republican threats to health care access and Social Security, as most Democrats do. But he also, probably accurately, accuses his opponent of running to be a Trump suck-up. It's a bold move when most Republicans including Tuberville have competed to win primaries by demonstrating how submissive they can be to the Orange Cheato. 
Also outside campaign norms, In These Times reports on intriguing experiments with canvassing in rural North Carolina where preserving Confederate monuments and resisting a feared immigrant invasion are common sentiments. Local organizing groups think they've found a way to train canvassers to have deep conversations that can reach conservative voters. Their contacts find themselves cross-pressured between fear of the unfamiliar and attachment to humane values. 
“We need to specifically talk about race and class,” said Danny Timpona, an organizer with Down Home North Carolina. “The Democratic Party might talk about class or they might talk about race, but they’re not talking about both of these things and how they pull at each other. We’re specifically pointing it out. We’re naming that this is a weapon that is economically harming us, and that the alternative, the antidote, is multiracial solidarity.” ...
“What we find with the majority of voters is they’re conflicted,” [Adam] Kruggel [from People's Action] said. “People carry all these contradictory beliefs. Often times, it’s more a matter of what is rising to the surface than a conflict in shared values. Deep canvassing helps slow people down. When you communicate, you create nonjudgmental space and lead with listening. You communicate through stories. It’s an effective way to de-polarize, to a certain extent.”

I'm always a little skeptical when social scientists and professional organizers claim to have come up with new techniques which will enable canvassers to make major inroads with otherwise antagonistic people. I understand that we'd all like to reduce how to carry on a successful persuasion campaign to a formula that could be taught. And we often give our magic bullet a very serious label like "deep canvassing" or “the “Race-Class Narrative.” Such claims probably play well with donors. 

But the struggle to make door-knocking effective will always be tough. Some people who do it take to it. Training can make these naturals better, pointing them toward techniques to have more effective conversations. But scaling up to produce multitudes of canvassers who lack a preexisting sympathetic gift-for-gab is not formulaic. Campaigns keep trying.

The In These Times story is nonetheless interesting.

Monday, August 10, 2020

A San Francisco treat

Tom Ammiano has given us a memoir -- titled, of course, Kiss My Gay Ass. It's perfectly wonderful; you should read it; and as far as I can figure out, the only way to obtain a copy is through that link.

Ammiano is the flaming queen who carried assassinated Supervisor Harvey Milk's gay liberation cause right up through the stuffy auditoriums of the San Francisco School Board (1990-1993), on to the Beaux-Arts corridors of San Francisco City Hall (1994-2008), and finally into the corrupt precincts of the California State Assembly (2008-2014). And never has he retreated from his allegiance to class-conscious equality for people of all races, sexual inclinations, and gender identities.

His own liberation movement put Ammiano on track to storm the halls of power -- but his memoir makes clear that performing stand-up comedy might have been his true love. The quick quip was his defense while growing up in a very hostile world for a gay man -- he writes that he "weaponized it to protect me from bullies." Later he honed his comedy as as school teacher and in comedy clubs. Whatever his credentials, the San Francisco establishment of the 1980s would have recoiled at the prospect of a gay teacher running for school board, but his comedy career was a particular target of scorn from the newspapers.
"... comedy was used against me as a weapon. But I felt like, without really articulating it, there was no reason I could not do both those things: comedy and politics. I really loved comedy. Who wrote the rules that say you have to choose?"
As a legislator, Ammiano assembled a majority of the Supervisors (that legislative body would be a city council if the City were not a county) to pass Healthy San Francisco which extended health coverage to all residents in 2007. He led passage of protections for LGBT+ civil rights in both San Francisco and Sacramento. He fought for legalizing marijuana before that notion was cool. He repeatedly sought to revise California's tax-limiting measure Prop. 13 so that big business had to pay its fair share. (That one is coming back at us this November as Prop. 15.) Ammiano has been there for every progressive effort of his generation.

Gay people of Ammiano's generation, with rare upper class exceptions, never trusted that the policeman was our friend. Calling the cops after a gay bashing might just get the victim bashed again. So when Ammiano won his seat among the city Supervisors who have some say over the police department, he found himself in a contradictory position.
"Ironically, the Police Officers Association had endorsed me in my race for Supervisor! All they asked me about was my support for unions issues and I was strongly pro-union. They didn't ask anything about policing rules or independent investigations of police shootings.

"... There was a lot of shit I had to deal with about the police. A lot of the officers were white cops who didn't live in San Francisco. ... There were a lot of raids of gay bars. They would say "you're overcrowded" as an excuse, shit like that.

"... Soon after I was elected, there were a number of police shootings in the black community. I remember going out to the community and standing and holding hands with black ministers about the shooting of some kid by the police. ... Then the cops raided an AIDS fundraiser. ... When they raided it, the cops covered their name tags so they could beat people, that was common practice.

"... I took fixing the Office of Citizen Complaints up as my cause ..."
For all Ammiano's efforts, although the SFPD may have achieved some hiring "diversity," its union still seems committed to viewing law enforcement as an occupying army restraining uppity dark skinned people and other transgressives. The struggle goes on.

Ammiano thinks of himself as a "lefty." I might substitute "radical" in this summation of what's he's learned about keeping the faith inside the halls of power:
"... It has always been [a] struggle to come from the lefty point of view in any movement. There will always be moderate people. There will always be people who sell out. There will always be people on the fence. Then there will be people who push the envelope because it's more than about just one issue or one thing -- it's about a movement."

Movement makers are precious people. Ammiano is a San Francisco gem.

Full disclosure: yes, he's a friend. A guy like this is a lot of people's friend.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Out and about in shutdown San Francisco

Imagine my delight when Walking San Francisco last weekend to come upon this:
These friends were having a great time on an obscure block in the Oceanview neighborhood. (Oddity: there is no ocean view.)
For the most part, the musicians practiced what they preached.
With one exception. 
The audience kept well back, enjoying the music and the day.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Prediction: health care will again move to center in the election

Remember the seemingly endless Democratic presidential primary season that ended with Joe Biden suddenly wiping out all the others? Probably not. Between COVID-19 and the filmed murder of George Floyd, most feeling people have had so much run over us that the memory is indistinct.

But at least one development of the last week should remind of us of what that long intraparty squabble was ostensibly about. Presidential aspirants argued and proposed and postured for months about how they would ensure everybody had access to health care. Today millions of people are out of work in a country that ties access to medical services to having a job -- in the midst of a pandemic. And it looks like voters do still care, even in states that seem less than obvious.

Dylan Scott at Vox surveyed social scientists about a recent, seemingly unlikely, development:

"For the second time this summer, voters in a solidly Republican state have decided now is the moment to expand Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

"Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid during Tuesday’s primary elections; 53 percent of voters supported the measure and 47 percent opposed it. That vote comes about a month after Oklahoma voters also decided to expand Medicaid via ballot referendum by less than 1 percentage point. 
"... Crises have a way of changing political attitudes. ... right now, disapproval of the Affordable Care Act is at a low ebb, with just 36 percent of Americans saying they have an unfavorable view of the law in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s July 2020 poll.  
"It is too soon to say whether any shift in the public’s policy preferences will be permanent. But we shouldn’t be surprised if a crisis as disruptive as the coronavirus pandemic leaves a long-lasting mark on our politics."
In the Los Angeles Times, David Lauter points out the advantage which Democrats gain by responding to the public's health care fears and hopes.
"Democrats have learned over the past decade that complex efforts at market-based solutions to expanding healthcare, like the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized marketplaces for low- and middle-income families who lack job-based coverage, don’t work politically on two levels: They fail to win over the Republicans they were designed to attract and they aren’t as popular with voters as straightforward expansions of public programs. 
"Biden opposes Medicare for All, but if he wins in November, some form of Medicaid for Many — a public option built around further expansion of the program — will likely form a key part of his administration’s program. 
"... if the spread of the virus slows, which President Trump‘s campaign strategists hope will allow him to start a comeback, he will still face a host of issues on which he was vulnerable long before the pandemic began. His efforts to repeal healthcare coverage for millions of Americans remain high on the list."

This is not the terrain on which Donald Trump wants to fight this election. He'll try to distract. He'll promise a “tremendous healthcare plan,” as he did just two weeks ago, a fantasy solution. He'll claim to protect people with pre-existing conditions, such as having been infected by COVID -- but legislators of his party has voted to repeal these protections over and over. And Trump supports a lawsuit to kill off all of Obamacare. Trump's magic health care fix will never happen. 

If Dems are smart, they'll keep hammering on a promise to make certain all of us can go to doctors. People need and want assurance of health care access; the virus keeps the need fresh in our minds.

It's on all of us to make sure Trump does not escape his failures -- his failure against the coronavirus, his failure to deliver on delusional promises.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Friday cat blogging

We're not living in the peaceable kingdom around here. Janeway wishes she could persuade me to play with her 12 hours a day (the balance of her time is for napping). But even with the pandemic, I can't give her that much attention. But she has discovered that if she peers out the back door, she can bait Carli, the pit bull, into charging the glass and barking. Janeway, not at all afraid, rises up and threatens to rip Carli's nose.

It's all good fun until their respective human servants hear the uproar and chase them away from each other. The glass is fortunately very tough.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

75 year ago, we dropped the Bomb

The Imperial War Museums (there are multiple locations) in Britain seem remarkable institutions. As a younger friend exclaimed after a visit, "that could be a peace museum!" In a way unlike how such an institution might act in the U.S. of A., their culture treats wars soberly, as terrible, anti-human, eruptions, not occasions for bluster and chest beating.

For the occasion of today's anniversary, IWM asks:
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were experiments in a new kind of warfare, whose full implications were not entirely understood at the time. The bombing of these cities in August 1945 brought an end to the Second World War, but at a terrible cost to the Japanese civilian population, and signalling the dawn of the nuclear age. What had led to the fateful decision to deploy these new weapons of mass destruction?

As a confirmed peacenik, I recoil from the atrocity that my country perpetrated to end the war of my parents' time. The scene in the video in which Churchill, Truman, and Stalin appear to be yucking it up appalls. War breeds more war; Hiroshima and Nagasaki only make macabre sense in the context of years of brutalizing, coarsening combat. As well, the Pacific war between Japan and "the West" -- Britain and the United States -- was a race war. Both sides routinely denied the shared humanity of the other.

I also know, I have no business judging. Future generations, if there are any, will condemn mine for our profligate addiction to fossil fuels.

At the annual ceremony at the peace memorial site at Hiroshima this year, journalists report the crowd was diminished. Many survivors have died; some of those who remain alive stayed away for fear of the coronavirus.
"Despite the health risks, a relatively small number of survivors attended this year. They believed that 'they’ve come this far' and 'can’t quit,' Mr. Sakuma said, adding that 'sending this message from Hiroshima is extremely important.' ...

... The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, who was not able to travel to the event because of the virus and delivered remarks by video, issued a stern warning about the dangers the world faced as international arms-control regimes began to break down.

"'Today a world without nuclear weapons seems to be slipping further from our grasp,' he said, adding that 'division, distrust and lack of dialogue threaten to return the world to unrestrained nuclear strategic competition.'"

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we no longer have the excuse of not knowing.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Thanks Donald!

Your incompetent response to the coronavirus has turned 60 percent of us into anti-vaxxers. That took some doing. Most of us knew at least vaguely we were glad to be living in a world without polio or smallpox thanks to vaccines until you came along and raised up the stupid.

Your handling of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic has been nothing but ignorant and venal. It's clear that you are either incapable or unwilling to understand the toll of COVID. Your interest in a preventative vaccine seems almost entirely about enhancing your own glory.

I don't know whether something you've labeled "Operation Warp Speed" can rapidly produce a safe and effective vaccine that I'd trust. "Warp Speed" is great in fiction, but careful science gets it done and you are devoid of acquaintance with either care or science.

This injury to our trust in science will have lasting consequences beyond the coronavirus -- even if we somehow don't see 300,000 U.S. deaths by the end of this year. Responding to human-induced climate change will require the best of our human analytical faculties -- which are organized and empowered as science.

This was preventable.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

A tale of two ballot summaries

As the array of propositions that California voters will be asked to weigh in on is being finalized, we're in the season of lawsuits. It's the job of the state Attorney General's office to write the description of a proposal's content that we see on our ballots. It's also the job of the AG to be sued by proponents and opponents of various measures who think he should have described their little darlings differently. The lawsuits usually have little impact.

If you ever wondered whether voting on obscure offices matters, the contrast between what was offered by a right wing Attorney General two decades ago and what current Democratic AG Xaxier Becerra have written on essentially the same measure makes the importance of these elections perfectly clear.
The intent of Prop. 16 appearing this November is simple: it will repeal Prop. 209 passed in 1996. Prop. 209 outlawed affirmative action by the state to assist Californians held down by entrenched racial and gender discrimination. But what does that mean?

John Myers, writing in a politics newsletter for the Los Angeles Times, summarizes:
Here’s the ballot title for the original proposition written by the office of then-Republican Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren: PROHIBITION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION OR PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT BY STATE AND OTHER PUBLIC ENTITIES.

Becerra is a politician who came up in the generation when Californian Republicans fought their battle to keep political power solely in disgruntled white suburban constituencies by handicapping the rising tide of Latinx, Black, indigenous, and other immigrant groups. This failed. California is no racial paradise, but this generation of Democratic pols know they have to work at equity.

Will Prop. 16 succeed? It ought to in the year of Black Lives Matter and widespread racial reckoning. But nobody should kid themselves that it will be easy; fear that someone, somewhere, is getting something undeserved that ought to be yours remains a potent political motivator.

But California certainly has changed since 1996, just as Republicans feared it would.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Encouraging novel voting methods will be hard work

Last week I listened in to a web presentation hosted by the Arizona Democratic Party that included Clara Pratte, presidential candidate Joe Biden's Tribal Engagement Director, and Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas, one of two Native Americans in Congress.

Ms. Pratte emphasized that no other segment of the population is more in need of a functioning U.S. administration, since the 578 tribal Indian governments depend on having a partner that listens and learns.

Rep. Davids reported that serving in Congress has required her to become adept at educating the other members about tribal sovereignty. Along with Rep. Debra Haaland of New Mexico, also an enrolled tribal member, she feels herself a bit of a novelty in Congress. There's a  Black Caucus, and a Hispanic Caucus, and an Asian-American Caucus -- where do these two women -- "the +2" -- fit in?

Both speakers emphasized that Native voting could help swing the election, especially in Arizona where 4.5% of the population is considered American Indian according to the Census. The local Navajo nation has experienced one of the most devastating outbreaks of COVID-19 in the country. So the Democratic Party and the Kansas congresswoman are urging widespread use of mail-in ballots.

An Arizona listener pointed out that the mail-in ballot push might encounter a significant cultural obstacle: historically the Navajo nation has held tribal elections the same day as the federal election, encouraging voters to gather centrally. This creates additional incentives for traveling long distances to vote -- and welcome opportunities for friends and family to socialize. Voting safely in the pandemic is going to force people to adopt a new, isolating, individualistic practice. This is tough where the internet is scarce and where postal facilities are few.

It was agreed that the most useful method for reaching out to explain mail-in voting to tribal members would be local radio.
Counties with large Native American populations with reported infection rates above 1,500 cases per 100,000 residents. New York Times
Counties with large Native American populations with reported infection rates above 1,500 cases per 100,000 residents. New York Times

The pandemic has been brutal in Indian country. And Indian country can help make a difference for us all.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Public service

This scene reminded me the other day: our public library is still fulfilling one of its missions -- providing free access to information to all. Yes, the SFPL unsecured wifi network remains available outside this entrance which has been locked since mid-March. If you already had a library card, you had good access to some electronic materials; but we miss our libraries.

There have been rumors that the library might reopen one of these days. In mid-July, the City Librarian told the Library Commission that he hoped to start up "SFPL to Go" in a couple of locations. Patrons could pick up and return books, DVDs, and other physical materials. Libraries in other nearby counties already have curbside pick up. What's holding our library back?

It turns out the librarians and other employees are busy. Chronicle columnist Heather Knight got the story:
According to City Librarian Michael Lambert, his staff as of July 1 comprised an eye-popping 45% of San Francisco’s disaster service workers.

Anybody hired by the city of San Francisco can be redeployed in a time of crisis, and the city has relied heavily on librarians, since all libraries have been closed since March and they otherwise had little to do.

Lambert oversees a staff of 560 people, which includes 213 librarians as well as library security, custodians and library pages who sort and shelve books. They’ve packed food at food pantries. They’ve worked at hotels for homeless people. They’ve served as contact tracers. 

 I suspect that library skills are a good fit for contact tracing. But let's hope the library staff are able to get back to their accustomed roles soon.