Saturday, October 31, 2009
Health care reform shorts: Happy Halloween!
I don't know if I'm sure we "win" if Congress manages to pass the emerging "plan" -- but for sure if they don't pass something that provides health care to most everyone, we all lose.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Looks like me
A friend sent me this cartoon. Aside from the gender, it's an accurate portrayal of your blogger. Minus the camera and a protest sign, of course. I haul around lots of interests.
Since I'm busy with an international guest today, that's it for now. If you really want a fix from me and haven't seen these, here are a couple pf "Gay & Gray" posts from Time Goes By that I haven't mentioned here before: Caster and Me: Musings on Gender and Dick Gephardt's Second Career.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Noted while walking on Bernal Heights
What leads a person a create this kind of tableau on the rear window of their SUV? I cannot and need not interpret. Admirably done.
Health care reform shorts:
What the fight is really about now
Forget noxious Joe Lieberman's egocentric grandstanding. We'll either batter him (and the rest of the dithering Dems) into doing the right thing (breaking a Republican filibuster) -- or not. If not, there's no point in bothering to elect any of them. But since pure self-interest will probably lead to something getting passed, there are other aspects to this fight.
As Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) explains in this clip [4:33] the real focus of reform now should be to make it possible for most people to have the choice of an affordable public option, not just 10 percent of us.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Truss, a London journalist, wishes we were more literate -- and defends proper punctuation as a prerequisite.
I'm with Truss on this -- I try to use punctuation to convey sense, even on a blog.
The reason it's worth standing up for punctuation is not that it's an arbitrary system of notation known only to an over-sensitive elite who have attacks of the vapours [sic, British spelling] when they see it misapplied. The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning. Punctuation herds words together, keeps others apart. ...
This book may be a cultural stretch for a writer of U.S. English. I'm not sure it would have been quite so enjoyable to me if I hadn't spent an odd couple of months in South Africa acting as an occasional "sub-editor" (British usage for "copy editor") on a Cape Town newspaper. My ideas about proper punctuation collided shockingly with the local norms -- acquiring some fluency in a novel variant usage made me much more aware of my own punctuation assumptions.
But anyone could appreciate Truss' good humor about a subject more likely to elicit yawns than howls of laughter. To convey the flavor, here's the anecdote that provided the book's title:
Enjoy if the opportunity presents itself.
A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes toward the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."
The waiters turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."
Should we write "Black" or "black"?
Question: If I am speaking specifically of a black or white pastor, do I capitalize Black or White? What about if I'm speaking of the Black church or the Black Church?
Answer: Oh, this one is a big ol' can of worms! Some people capitalize Black but not white, perhaps on the theory that the capital "B" affords a certain respect to a more-or-less unified ethnic group, whereas "white" does not refer to any particular ethnicity. So, for example, it could be argued that the expression "the Black church" or "Black churches" suggests the existence of some shared characteristics -- ritual practices, theology, inculturation -- among those churches, perhaps as a result of the history of people of African descent in this country. But the parallel expression "the White church" does not usually evoke a similar idea, in fact it sounds odd: because there is no identifiably "white" way of worshiping.
Some folks capitalize "Black" but not "white" because the latter refers to a dominant -- and therefore paradoxically invisible -- grouping, whose hegemony dictates the "normal," from which identifiable ethnic or racial groups can be recognized as deviating -- or less pejoratively -- differing. So the "different" groups get capitalized (e.g., Latinos, Asians) in distinction from the norm, which is "white." In this view, "Black" has as much claim to capitalization as "Latino."
More recently, the advocates of the field of White Studies -- which is in part the study of white hegemony and in part the study of particular ethnic strains within white America ("America" being a term I usually render "United States", because America is bigger than the U.S. -- but that's another kettle of fish!). So these folks, in an attempt to indicate the illegitimacy of a white norm, capitalize "White" to indicate its place as one among many groups, rather than as the true north from which all others deviate.
Some folks prefer to render both "black" and "white" in lower case, thereby avoiding the problem. I think this is common practice among many sociologists.
I try when it's not too cumbersome, to talk about people of African descent. This is more inclusive than African-American, which excludes, e.g., people from the Caribbean living in the U.S., and more precise than "Black" -- which can also refer to people of South Asian descent -- especially in the British and British-influenced world. But "churches composed of people of African descent" is a mouthful, and doesn't really convey what I imagine you mean by the Black church, i.e., churches founded and led by descendants of African slaves in the United States. By the way, the one expression I wouldn't use is "Black Church," unless "Church" is part of a particular denomination's name. (For example, my own denomination has changed its official name to The Episcopal Church, abbreviated TEC.)
Not very helpful, eh? In my own writing I usually capitalize "Black" but not "white." This is partly because in a U.S. context, "Black" refers to a group of people with some historical, linguistic, and cultural unity (an albino African American is still Black), whereas "white" does not. The main reason, however, is to signal to Black readers a generalized respect and acknowledgment.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Policy change, not law
Like most progressives, I'm long since given up hope that the ascension of the Obama administration means any real back-tracking from the U.S. acting as a rogue world Tac Squad, snatching up "enemies" without legal process, imprisoning or killing them, murdering with drones (or spooks?) in other peoples' countries. Empires do those things -- the U.S. is still (and precariously) top world empire.
But I still don't expect to see them state their disdain for legal niceties aloud, even under cover of anonymity. A Los Angeles Times article this morning followed up on the readjustment made by Mohammed Jawad since his release from Guantanamo under U.S. court order last month. He's the Afghan kid we picked up at about age 13 and charged with throwing a grenade at U.S. troops. The "evidence" was coerced statements from him and others. A U.S. federal judge called the case "an outrage 'riddled with holes.'" He was sent back to his country after 7 years in captivity. (I have to admit to wondering why attacking foreigners he perceived as invaders would be a crime anyway; isn't that what homegrown nutcases with their NRA arsenals think "patriots" ought to do?)
Anyway now we've got a quote from an official unhappy about the release that explains his department's view of these cases:
Apparently there are no concerns of law or justice here -- just a new king who orders a different policy than the old king.
A Justice Department official who asked not to be identified says the case was dropped when conditions changed.
"He was held so long with evidence based on torture," the official says. "The president decided, one, that we won't torture and, two, that we won't rely on statements based on torture. It's not really lessons learned. It was the result of a policy choice the president made."
Senator Reid throws down for a partial public option;
Is Washington hearing us now?
Monday evening a friend who works in medicine told me her story of calling Senator Harry Reid's office to insist that he put a comprehensive health care reform bill with a strong public option to a vote in the Senate.
She didn't report her implied threat -- if Reid didn't come through for real health care reform, he could forget support from grassroots California Democrats. But I'm sure his office gets that. And he is facing a difficult re-election.
I told them I lived in California. But I'd been to Nevada last year to help elect President Obama -- and I was willing to come back to help him, if he did the right thing.
As we move toward some endgame on health care reform, political calculus is beginning to nudge the policy wonks out of the way. They may know their economics and their "bending the cost curve." But ordinary citizens experience this debate at a visceral level: will I die because an insurance company is dicking around with me? Will my kid suffer for someone's profits?
Grassroots pressure is beginning to weigh in against the permanent pressure from the medical-insurance complex.
I don't usually put much stock in stories from Politico; the online publication runs too high a ratio of poorly-sourced Washington insider gossip to reporting for my taste. But today David Rogers offered some interesting insight into how the needs and desires of the Democratic base are beginning to light a fire under Congressional leaders and have put them on a slightly different track from the President.
When the White House made deals with the drug companies, doctors and hospitals, it acted as if these were the only forces at play in the health care reform. And those deals probably did restrain the medical-insurance complex from getting straight in bed with the nutcase teabaggers.
Having bet the farm, President Barack Obama needs a win and is willing to settle for a cheaper bill and a weaker public insurance option. Democrats in Congress, increasingly worried about the 2010 elections, want stronger medicine for fear the reforms will prove to be a house of cards if working-class voters can’t afford the coverage promised.
That's a big, underappreciated reason why the public option has resurfaced in recent weeks in what’s really a proxy war for the affordability debate. ...
"The White House wants the accomplishment," said one Senate Democratic aide. "The speaker and Reid are worried about the base not turning out in 2010."
But millions of people -- people who put the Democratic majority in office -- were left out of these calculations. Determined agitation has put activism by ordinary citizens into the political equation.
We aren't going to win what we really want (single payer and the insurance companies put out to pasture) but we just might get something that's an improvement on what our betters would deliver if left to make their deals in private. They have become more and more aware that if they deliver health care reform that makes only superficial changes and costs so much people can't use it, they will reap the wrath of many experienced shit-disturbers.
That's what our President gets for exciting hope for change. Don't imagine he much likes it -- none of us do when we're on the receiving end of popular pressure. But that's democracy. And this is the time to press harder, not to take Reid's decision as some kind of rest stop ...
Monday, October 26, 2009
Health care reform shorts:
When the artists come out, you know it's real
The same goes for YouTube creations. The progressive push for an authentic health care reform is producing them in quantity. Here's one addressed to Democrats. [:37]
H/t litbrit at Cogitamus.
Then there's this improbable gem [6:49]:
"How could this wealthy country be so god-damned dense?"
H/t Time Goes By and Elderwoman Blog.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Hate your neighbor? Turn her in....
And they think they are on NCIS or Law and Order. Again nice cast diversity in this "training film."
May they drown in false leads and garbage complaints, as they almost certainly will. And let's hope they don't shoot anyone while playing TV cop. H/t Allison Kilkenny.
City of San Francisco economic stimulus program
Recently sidewalks in the Mission District have been breaking out in white paint spots, like the one shown above.
Occasionally other colored spots showed up too.
Eventually property owners got letters from the City. We were ordered to replace the marked squares of sidewalk -- those marked in white had been declared hazardous -- or have them replaced by the City and be billed for the cost of this improvement. Other colors meant various agencies would have to be responsible. (Blue meant the Water Department had to do the work.) The City gets the take from the required building permit fees; small-scale contractors get small jobs; City residents get smoother sidewalks.
Fortunately we could afford the repairs, so we quickly hired a contractor to replace six squares. Three hard working gents turned up the next day to begin to cut away the damaged blocks.
After the saw came the hammering.
We were pleased to see that the fellow working the hammer wore earplugs. When I did that work, I used ear protectors designed for shooting ranges. But most guys didn't wear anything.
Disposal of broken sidewalks was low tech -- they trucked the stones away to some landfill. As "clean fill," there is probably a small market for broken concrete.
When all the squares were cut out, the guys wet down the earth underneath. Then they trucked in concrete and filled the squares.
Giving concrete a smooth finish is something of an art -- it requires multiple passes with different tools at succeeding stages of the curing process over several hours.
The results are satisfying to contemplate.
Knowing the neighborhood as we do, we were not surprised to see several of our new squares had been tagged within a few hours. So it goes. It would have taken a security guard to avert the drive many feel to make their neighborhood their own. I'd rather just live here...
Saturday, October 24, 2009
International day of climate action begins in the Mission
Across the globe, folks are rallying to let our rulers know we want carbon emissions cut back to 350 parts per million (ppm), the level at which there is some hope living conditions on this planet might remain something like they've been during human history. Read all about it at 350.org.
These folks are laying out a climate change quilt in Dolores Park. Later today there will be a convergence of folks from numerous local actions at 3 pm at Justin Hermann Plaza at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco.
Human activity -- good things like factories that make goods that make life easier; bad things like traffic and deforestation -- has driven CO2 levels well above 350 ppm. The counter on the right of this blog always shows the current level. Not looking good!
We're completely irresponsible if we don't do something about this -- we broke it; we have to fix it.
UPDATE: Here's the quilt all spread out later in the day.
The quilt makers describe the project at 350 Reasons.
In December, 2009, the world's leaders are meeting to create new agreements about how to work together on the climate crisis, and 350 needs to be the number they are working for. Each panel of the 350 Reasons Quilt is a tribute to something that the person who created it loves about life on Earth. All sewn together, the quilt will represent 350 reasons to dedicate our energy, time and creativity to keep Earth's atmosphere below 350!
I'm the wrong age to have properly appreciated what was happening when Earth Day came on the scene in 1970. I'd spent the 1960s in demonstrations for civil rights and against the Vietnam war that ended in tear gas and charging police. I didn't understand a "movement" sponsored by a U.S. Senator that rapidly acquired corporate sponsors.
I was wrong. That phase of environmental awareness got us, in this country, a Clean Air Act that is the reason the San Francisco skyline looked like this today rather than being clouded in visible smog.
The current environmental crisis is of a completely different order, as is the movement to confront it. Folks all over the world are raising the cry for 350 ppm. The most visible and immediate harm from climate change hits poor people in poor countries -- yet remedies demand change and some sacrifice from rich and powerful individuals and countries and their corporations. The activists for 350 in this country look to me to be mostly relatively comfortably-off folks with young children -- another generation. They understand what they are up against, but are not discouraged or cynical. More power to 'em!
The President has heroes .. who wouldn't applaud his war
Derrick Crowe who created this 4:30 minute mashup blogs against expansion of Obama's Afghanistan war at Rethink Afghanistan. He also blogs at Return Good for Evil.
The major groups working to build opposition to the U.S.'s Afghan adventure have put up a useful site that tracks Congressional opposition at United Against Afghanistan Escalation.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Pushing back against hate
Passing a hate crimes law has been a major objective of all the LGBT advocacy outfits in Washington for ten years. Though the bill actually passed out of the House and Senate in the last Congress, President George W. Bush persuaded Congressional leadership to drop it before the measure to which it was attached (war funding, 'natch) got to him. President Obama has promised to sign it this time.
This year's bill is the first piece of federal legislation to include gender identity as well as sexual orientations under legal protections. Despite the fears of homophobes and other right wingers, it doesn't forbid anyone to say hurtful things about queers and those perceived as gender-nonconforming -- but it will lead to education for law enforcement and the general public about the need to prevent hate violence against LGBT people and enable the feds to get involved when such crimes happen.
A bit of history makes clear how major a political victory passing this law is: despite nearly 5000 racially motivated lynchings in the first half of the 20th century, the Senate blocked over 200 bills explicitly criminalizing lynching between 1900 and the 1950s. In 2005, the Senate passed an apology to the victims of past lynching -- but insisted on a voice vote, so Senators still in opposition to this repudiation of historic racism would not have to be counted. Dredging equity out of Congress is never easy, however obvious the need appears.
Meanwhile in other parts of the world, it is still hard to be gay and/or gay friendly -- and in some places it getting harder. The gentleman at the left is Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, former Anglican bishop of Western Buganda in Uganda, and a determined friend of gay people in his country. After his retirement, he found himself offering counseling and acting as chaplain to a group of young gay men in Kampala. The 77-year-old, married, father of seven, was deprived of his pension and kicked out of his church for taking in these outcasts. I had the privilege of spending time with this kind, straightforward man in the course of work for the full inclusion of LGBT in the Episcopal Church.
Uganda is currently in the grip of a classic panic about homosexuality -- demagogues are charging that the few visible gay people will somehow destroy the precarious nation. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) describes a proposed new law:
This is hate indeed. And Bishop Christopher would fall directly in its reach along with this congregation.
Uganda's Penal Code Article 145a already criminalizes "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" – a charge used to prosecute, persecute and blackmail LGBT people with the threat of life imprisonment. The new bill would specifically penalize homosexuality, using life imprisonment to punish anything from sexual stimulation to simply "touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality." It also punishes "aggravated homosexuality" – including activity by "serial offenders" or those who are HIV positive – with the death penalty.
The bill criminalizes "promotion of homosexuality" in the form of funding and sponsoring LGBT organizations and broadcasting, publishing, or marketing materials on homosexuality and punishes these acts with a steep fine, 5-7 years of imprisonment, or both. Any person in authority who fails to report known violations of the law within 24 hours will also be subject to a significant fine and up to 3 years in prison – even when this means turning in their colleagues, family, or friends. More shocking, the bill claims jurisdiction over Ugandans who violate its provisions while outside of the country.
People in the United States need to raise our voices against this proposal. It's not enough to just get our own law. IGLHRC has provided email addresses and a sample letter at this link.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Stop defamation of Latinos on CNN:
Time for Lou Dobbs to go
A coffee shop on 24th Street in the Mission District was the site for one of 18 press conferences in cities with large Latino populations on Wednesday, all promoting a campaign get CNN to remove Lou Dobbs from its programming. Dobbs anchors a successful daily talk program.
Lou Dobbs is a sort of avuncular populist who sometimes speaks up for the economically disadvantaged -- as long as they are white. But he also has a long record of hateful and false attacks on Latinos, drawing a picture for his English-speaking audience of a brown horde of "illegals" overwhelming "their" country. For example, he has repeatedly maintained without any factual basic that one third of the US prison population consists of undocumented immigrants.
This month CNN is airing a "Latino in America" special, clearly hoping to attract a Latino audience. But at some point the network will have to make a choice between profiting from a host who spews racially-tinged hate and this growing market segment that it recognizes as essential to its future.
The campaign has produced this video [3:08] of some Dobbs low lights:
Local artist Favianna Rodriguez is a spokesperson for the campaign.
Immigrant advocates Ana Perez of CARECEN and Eric Quezada of Dolores Street Community Services also endorsed the campaign.
To get involved, send a text message with the word "Basta" to 30644 or visit BastaDobbs.com.
Yes -- CNN did attend the press conference.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Health care reform pressure
Organizing for America (Obama 2.0) was at work today, making over 200,000 phone calls from over 1000 sites on behalf of health care reform. These smiling folks were snagging passersby in front of the Millberry Union at UC San Francisco -- that's the Med School campus.
It's hard to know what Congress will make of this show of strength. At this point the question is more what kind of "health care reform" we'll get than whether we'll get something called "health care reform." Judging by the med students I've run into, single payer and the public option are very popular around here.
This doctor waved his sign outside Obama's Democratic party fundraiser in downtown San Francisco last week.
Late in the day, the President made a campaign-style presentation to his loyal workers via webcast. You can watch it here. He reminded us [my paraphrase]:
His promises were all about improving access for the uninsured and decreasing the society-wide cost of health care; not about changing the underlying health care system. Medicine for profit will thrive in Obama's world. Changing that is not on the President's agenda (nor has he ever said it was).
...the bill you like least would provide 29 million Americans with health insurance...it will prevent insurers from denying insurance to people because of 'pre-existing conditions' ...it will set up exchanges where people can buy health insurance...
I'm not tired.. I don't know about you, but I'm just getting started, because of you.
Democrats better hope this "reform" they are creating works. For a lot of people, "works" means individual (not social) cost containment: they are sick of employment-linked insurance that requires such expensive co-payments that they can't use it. A health care reform that "works" would mean the end of "job lock" -- the inability to change jobs for fear of not being fully covered even if they got a new job with benefits. If most insurance is to be employer-based, the system won't "work" if employers continue to cut back on benefits or stop offering health insurance at all. It won't "work" if insurers can deny insured people medical treatment they believe they need, as managed care plans did in the 1990s.
These are the kind of "details" that the President didn't mention today -- nor did he mention the public option. But this is what people will care about in practice. Do any of these people in Washington understand the feelings of helplessness most of us have in confronting the profit-making behemoths that can decide whether we live or die?
Senator Ron Wyden's office tried to get this across to his Democratic colleagues today. The Congressional leadership was flogging talking points about reform:
Wyden's aide fired back:
"Under our [health-care reform] plan, if you like what you have you can keep it, but if you don’t there will be affordable choices for you that can’t be taken away."
...under the current legislation, seven years after implementation, more than 90 percent of Americans will remain barred from shopping for insurance in the exchange. This means that not only will MOST Americans be stuck with the coverage they have – whether they like it or not – if reform establishes a public option, more than 90 percent of Americans won’t be able to choose it.
I want this President and this plan to succeed as much as anyone, but no amount of rah-rah speeches yet give me confidence that the Dems in Washington are going to get this right. They've made a lot of compromises with the drug pushers, the hospital industry, the medical profiteers. What will be left for the rest of us?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Time to "hold until relieved" --
The "realist" case for US departure from Afghanistan
Policy shops that would call themselves "realist" don't deal in messy stuff like children blown to bits, homes and livelihoods destroyed, ancient cultures ripped apart. They peddle antiseptic, "tough-minded," "manly" assessments of national interests, to hell with the human consequences. In a better world, this kind of "realism" would be understood as a mental disorder, a social pathology that falsely separates human experience and needs from policy prescriptions. But in our world, "realists" give advice to Presidents.
Here's the current Stratfor assessment of the United States' excellent Afghan adventure:
My emphasis. How many more Afghans and their invaders have to die for this ill-conceived mistake?
The best argument for fighting in Afghanistan is powerful and similar to the one for fighting in Iraq: credibility. The abandonment of either country will create a powerful tool in the Islamic world for jihadists to argue that the United States is a weak power. Withdrawal from either place without a degree of political success could destabilize other regimes that cooperate with the United States. Given that, staying in either country has little to do with strategy and everything to do with the perception of simply being there.
The best argument against fighting in either country is equally persuasive. The jihadists are right: The United States has neither the interest nor forces for long-term engagements in these countries. American interests go far beyond the Islamic world, and there are many present (to say nothing of future) threats from outside the region that require forces. Overcommitment in any one area of interest at the expense of others could be even more disastrous than the consequences of withdrawal.
In our view, Obama's decision depends not on choosing between McChrystal's strategy and others, but on a careful consideration of how to manage the consequences of withdrawal. An excellent case can be made that now is not the time to leave Afghanistan, and we expect Obama to be influenced by that thinking far more than by the details of McChrystal's strategy. As McChrystal himself points out, there are many unknowns and many risks in his own strategy; he is guaranteeing nothing.
Reducing American national strategy to the Islamic world, or worse, Afghanistan, is the greater threat. Nations find their balance, and the heavy pressures on Obama in this decision basically represent those impersonal forces battering him. The question he must ask himself is simple: In what way is the future of Afghanistan of importance to the United States? The answer that securing it will hobble al Qaeda is simply wrong. U.S. Afghan policy will not stop a global terrorist organization; terrorists will just go elsewhere. The answer that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is important in shaping the Islamic world's sense of American power is better, but even that must be taken in context of other global interests.
Obama does not want this to be his war. He does not want to be remembered for Afghanistan the way George W. Bush is remembered for Iraq or Lyndon Johnson is for Vietnam. Right now, we suspect Obama plans to demonstrate commitment, and to disengage at a more politically opportune time. Johnson and Bush showed that disengagement after commitment is nice in theory.
For our part, we do not think there is an effective strategy for winning in Afghanistan, but that McChrystal has proposed a good one for "hold until relieved." We suspect that Obama will hold to show that he gave the strategy a chance, but that the decision to leave won't be too far off.
Monday, October 19, 2009
It's "Harry Reid week" in the health care reform saga
Thanks to the odd twists and turns of legislative practice, now that two Senate committees have passed two, different, reform packages, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has to mush them together, creating a bill that the whole Senate then gets a crack at. He can come up with pretty much any version he likes -- constrained only by the pounding he'll be taking from the White House, his Senate colleagues, lobbying groups, the media and even his Nevada constituents who get to vote on him in 2010. Oh yeah -- and he'll want to put forward something that can get the votes of 60 Senators, not perhaps for all its specifics, but to move it to consideration for amendment and debate.
If that seems to you an over-complicated and a slightly crazy way to do the nation's business, I agree.
Contemplating Harry Reid on the hot seat evoked for me a memory of historian Robert A. Caro's description in Master of the Senate of the Majority Leader's job as it existed in the 1930s and 40s. Caro's subject, Lyndon Johnson, rescued the position from the ignominy of that era, but much of Reid's situation looks familiar.
As the gentleman in the photo above apparently thinks should be the norm, Senate Majority Leaders have often found themselves trying to move a Presidential agenda while stymied by the divisions within their own caucus. In the past both political parties were much more "big tent" conglomerations than today. The gulf between ConservaDems like Kent Conrad, Evan Bayh and Blanche Lincoln and mildly progressive Dems like Tom Harkin, Ron Wyden and Chuck Schumer is nothing on what used to exist between Southern segregationists and northern liberals. Actually the present novelty is among the Republicans who have mostly lost all diversity within their caucus and are reduced to a merely obstructionist rump of knuckledraggers (minus the women from Maine perhaps).
But that doesn't mean Reid can count on Senators from his own party to do what he wants. These are very entitled people. They still derive power from committee assignments that Reid doesn't completely control -- seniority and the wishes of the whole party caucus still limit him. What Reid faces is not nearly so bad as the historical norm in which all-powerful committee chairmen ran over Majority Leaders, but Democratic Senators he alienates can undercut him if they are offended.
Aside from that ruthlessly effective bully Lyndon Johnson, Senate Majority leaders have often taken a beating in the public understanding. Here's Caro on the phenomenon in the late 1940s:
Ouch. Nothing new here. Whatever Reid does we're likely to see that scenario re-enacted I think. And, after scorn, often the next step for Majority Leaders has been electoral rejection; Reid currently polls behind just about any opponent in Nevada for 2010.
Failing to understand the realities of Senate power, press and public thought a "Leader" was a leader, and therefore blamed the Leaders -- particularly the "Majority Leader" -- for the Senate's failures. ... And heaped on top of blame was scorn. Many Washington journalists were liberals, eager for the enactment of that liberal legislation which seemed so clearly desired not only by the President but by the bulk of the American people and impatient with Majority Leaders who, despite the fact they were leading a majority, somehow couldn't get that legislation passed. Not understanding the institutional realities, the journalists laid the Leaders' failure to personal inadequacies: incompetence, perhaps, or timidity.
As I've written over and over here, the current health care reform debate/process highlights the various dysfunctions built into our democratic system. So far in our history we've avoided completely sinking the country over them, though it took a civil war to enshrine the triumph "free market" labor (and its exploitation) over slavery -- and thus create a path to our current, but more equal, one person, one vote political arrangements. The unrepresentative Senate and its historic quirks amplify and defend obstacles to democracy in our time. Along with fighting the domination of big money in politics, some kind of Senate reform may well move onto the national agenda if necessary initiatives are stymied there. I do count on this President to try to avert that conflict -- and don't count on his leadership if we have to have it.
If the public option is in his proposed bill, it will take 60 Senate votes to get it out. If Reid leaves it out, it will take 60 votes to get it put in. Reid can make what the people of his state and the nation want more or less attainable. You can encourage him to do the right thing.
This morning I made a small contribution at this site to run the ad below in Nevada. You can too. It's hammer Harry Reid week.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Health care reform shorts:
Without reform, women pay more and get less
Six women U.S. Senators speak up for reform in this short [3:17] clip. A couple of issues I didn't know about:
- insurers can and do treat pregnancy or plans to adopt as "pre-existing conditions" for which they refuse coverage;
- being a victim of domestic violence also leads to denial of insurance.
H/t Our Bodies, Our Blog.
Cullen has brought together the messy, fragmentary, almost over-documented record of the events that led up to the massacre and leaves this reader with the impression that the horror happened because this was one of those unhappy occasions on which everything that could have gone right went wrong. One of the shooters was seriously mentally warped; the other a combination of conventionally depressed and easily led. None of the various authorities or other young people who were positioned to have intervened did anything that interrupted the boys' trajectory toward the crime. Intervention could have come at many points, but apparently by happenstance rather than culpability, it just didn't. Mulling over Columbine's "meaning," I'm left with the sense that there are very few lessons to be drawn from this tragedy.
Eric was counting on a slow recovery. He was less concerned about killing hundreds of people on April 20 than about tormenting millions for years. His audience was the target. He wanted everyone to agonize: the student body, residents of [Jefferson County], the American public, the human race.
What Cullen does create is a very full picture of how journalism in the immediate aftermath set anxious parents and consumers of TV sensationalism rushing off in numerous directions after "explanations" that were false, but proved to have enormous sticking power. The killers were not gay, nor Goths, nor part of a "Trench Coat Mafia," nor aiming to kill Blacks, nor targeting confessing Christians. But all those ideas took flight as hordes of reporters swarmed to Columbine. Cullen paints a picture of how many of these notions originated almost immediately as the reporters sought explanations for such a violent event:
Do most of us really feel that alienated from the world of young people -- particularly the world of young people most of whom were themselves looking to adults to give horror meaning?
...most of the most notorious myths took root before the killers' bodies were found. ... Media defenders blame the chaos: two thousand witnesses, wildly conflicting reports -- who could get all those facts straight?
... Initially, most witnesses ... described the killing as random. All the papers and the wire services produced a total of just four witnesses advancing the target theory [in multiple variants] ... each one contradicting his or her own description. ..."Student" equaled "witness." Witness to everything that happened that day, and anything about the killers. It was a curious leap. Reporters would not make that mistake at a car wreck. ...But journalists felt like foreigners stepping into teen culture. They knew that kids can hide anything from adults -- but not from each other. That was the mentality: Something shocking happened here; we're baffled, but the kids know. So all two thousand were deputized as insiders ...
At the time, and subsequently, we want to reject the possibility that these human actions, done by teenagers who appeared not so very far from the norm, might have no neat explanation at all. This remains tough to contemplate.
If you aren't up for a 400 page excursion into meaninglessness -- despite some very endearing portraits of some admirable people who did and did not survive this madness -- this may not be the book for you. It was a good read for me because I was close to being the person I always doubt exists when I read about jury selection in high profile cases: because of distractions in my own life, I paid no attention to Columbine at the time and never picked up on the story later. It was all new and a little fascinating to me, especially since I worked in a nearby Denver suburb during the last election. But it's a nasty episode to be approached with mental caution.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Loma Prieta remembered
When the earthquake struck on October 17 1989, I was working in a storefront office in the brick building pictured above on the "Yes on S" campaign, seeking to save the city's domestic partnership legislation from an anti-gay referendum. Prospects for that night's phonebank looked grim; the World Series game between the Oakland As and the San Francisco Giants was about to start at Candlestick Park. Locals were tuned in to baseball that night, not politics.
I was on the phone with my partner who was in an office half a mile away as the trembler hit. She said "uh oh" and I knew somehow she meant "earthquake". I had a nano-second to hang up and think I should get under my desk before feeling the floor shake. The earthquake (or rather the structures it was moving) made a low rumbling sound. I got under the desk while the shaking was still underway and before a few of the suspended ceiling tiles jumped their frames and dropped into the wide open office. After a mere 15 seconds, the shaking stopped. And the electricity went off and the phones went dead.
We knew the quake was serious, though naturally had no idea how serious. As it happened someone had brought a battery-powered TV to the campaign office, presumably to catch some of the baseball on the sly. We took the TV outside and set it up on a card table, thinking like organizers -- we might attract a crowd to make friends of. Broadcast news was as disrupted as everything else, so I don't remember seeing the collapsed Bay Bridge or the fallen freeway in Oakland at that time. But naturally we wanted any news we could find.
Meanwhile, what we saw there on the outer reaches of mid-Market Street (at Franklin) was surreal: with the electricity out, the Municipal Railway cars that ran on Market Street couldn't move. Traffic lights were gone and drivers weren't yet attempting to get around. But thousands of downtown office workers streamed toward us on foot in the middle of the street. Some places further downtown plate glass and cornices had come crashing down. People in high rise buildings had experienced the swaying much longer and more vigorously than those of us on the ground. The walkers' faces were white -- they seemed stunned and mostly took no notice of our TV. Many of the women were wearing athletic shoes and carrying bags with their office shoes -- I guess that was their daily practice.
It was about 3 days before relatively normal movement and electricity was restored in the city. The Chronicle managed to get out an abbreviated issue the next morning. The oh-so-local World Series resumed at the end of the week. The Bay Bridge is still in the process of being strengthened twenty years later -- indicative of shameful local political incapacity.
Meanwhile, those of us working to save our domestic partnership law had to figure out what you do when your campaign is interrupted by a catastrophic local event that leaves the electorate and campaign workers in a state of shock. Most people wanted either to help with earthquake relief (more people than emergency agencies could really use) or hunker down. The last thing they wanted was to engage in democratic combat in the electoral mode.
The Yes on S campaign suspended operations to collect cash for the Red Cross. (I've told that funny story here.) But San Francisco was not so damaged that the election would be postponed. We had to get our folks active again if we were to have any chance. Over the next week I managed to meet with all 50 precinct captains I was working with, evaluating what they had done and what they needed to do. The process felt as if we starting over -- and in some sense, we were. The civic shock of the earthquake was that great.
My experience of San Francisco's "almost Big One" makes me think that if we'd had national leadership that was worth a damn after 9/11, the country could have benefited and healed some from a national effort to "restart." Instead we were just urged to pretend the government had everything under control and we should go shopping. We needed to come together and consider intelligently what it meant that our country has enemies who experience the U.S. as so vile that they are ready to die to hurt us randomly. In the language of 2001, our grief need not have been a cry for war. The rush to churches in the wake of 9/11 was people's effort to find a better restart. We, Iraqis, and Afghans are still suffering for our failure to achieve a constructive restart after that national shock.
Oh -- and San Francisco voted narrowly against our domestic partnership law in that autumn of 1989. This city was not yet ready for another year to definitively adopt it and begin the trek toward today's marriage efforts. That 1989 electoral loss too may well have been an aftershock of the earthquake. People become conservative and negative after great shocks. But they also can recover.
Friday, October 16, 2009
The world we live in
Real image from the Target online catalogue. Why does the mass retailer think it can insult its customers? H/t Racewire.
The Balboa theater was showing two movies tonight. You can imagine which one we saw. Michael Moore's opus is definitely worth a look. It is enhanced by some acquaintance with the liberation theology -- but then, so is life. See it if you can. I doubt that recommendation extends to "Couples."
Health care reform shorts:
Labor's contradictions front and center
Seems fair enough. And then we learn that the loudest (if not the most important) opposition to this aspect of reform is the unions, the same unions who are the most organized supporters of the public option and higher subsidies to enable ordinary people to pay for better insurance than they now have. What gives?
The Senator Max Baucus version of reform would "impose a 40 percent excise tax on insurance plans [provided by employers] that cost more than $8,000 a year for an individual or $21,000 for a family." (NY Times.) That looks like pretty fancy insurance to most of us. But House Democrats aren't buying this because labor says no way.
An article from the Las Vegas Sun points out that such an excise tax would be a levy on hotel maids!
Unions are in the business of winning benefits from their members -- the people who pay dues to have strong representation in their dealings with powerful employers. In Las Vegas, the Culinary Workers Union is doing a good job, so members/workers have good benefits that bring them into a middle class status. That's as it should be.
Several years ago, when the powerful Culinary Union was negotiating new contracts on the Strip, its workers decided to forgo an initial pay increase to preserve their health care benefits.
The union offers its workers, who clean hotel rooms and work in casino restaurants, a great benefits package by many measures -- workers pay no premium from their paychecks for a policy that covers themselves and their families. Now, under the health care reform plan being debated in the Senate, those benefits could eventually be taxed to help raise money to cover the uninsured.
But if unions are to survive and thrive, they also have to offer a vision of a better future to unorganized workers who aren't their members. They can't rest on their record or count only on their current members -- there aren't enough of those members and employers are bent on using every means at their disposal to ensure labor can't organize many more. And if other workers can't even hope that someday they could enjoy the kind of benefits that the organized sectors enjoy, why should they even consider joining up or looking to labor for leadership?
That's why you'll find the San Francisco Labor Council supporting Single Payer health care reform and why the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka is one of the most important voices raised in support of the public option.
Labor is squeezed. The people who pay labor's bills are the current members and they have a right to expect their unions to look out for their immediate interests. That means things like defending them from an excise tax. Meanwhile, labor dies if it can't look out for the larger interests of all working people.
Most of the time, the unions look first to the interests of their current members -- and I can't say I entirely blame them. But a more equitable society requires that labor also look beyond current interests and fight for more widespread changes. Finding a right balance is the tightrope exercise that organized labor is always stuck with attempting.
UPDATE: Here's what labor is saying about the tax on expensive health care plans.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Journalism shake out
Will the New York Times become San Francisco's "local" newspaper? Maybe. According to a press release,
With the Chronicle getting thinner and thinner, this might work. After all, half the reporting in the front section of the Chronicle has been imported from the Times and the Washington Post for years now. So why not the local news as well?
The New York Times announced today an expanded Bay Area metro report with added pages of local content on Fridays and Sundays in the San Francisco area. The Bay Area report will launch on Friday, Oct. 16. The new pages will complement the national and global coverage that long has made The Times a popular news provider in the region.
The Bay Area pages initially will be written and edited by New York Times journalists and contributors and will include enterprising coverage of local concerns, focusing on public affairs, culture and lifestyles in San Francisco, the Silicon Valley, the East Bay and the region. The pages will expand on the work of The Times's 10-person San Francisco news bureau and its already extensive coverage of the Bay Area.
Since I essentially read local news for gossip and the ever-amusing sensationalism, the Times probably won't equal current offerings, but that might just save me some time.
We haven't seen it here yet, but ESPN online seems read to grab the more viable local sports markets. Watch any game on their network and you'll see ads for the prototype: ESPN Dallas.
Neiman Lab opines that the Times' move into the San Francisco Bay Area is an effort to combat the Wall Street Journal's pre-eminence. Just the other day, the WSJ surpassed USAToday as the "old media" outlet with the most daily eyeballs.
Some days, I just wish all this would settle down so I could find a decent dose of "conventional" news in one place and spend my time cruising the unconventional elsewhere. But not yet.
Climate change blog action day:
Survival is up to us
On this site I chronicle politics in many different arenas. Lots of what I write about is dysfunction because only by pointing out the problems can we hope to find solutions. There is no aspect of our situation that more clearly shows up what's not working than the unarguable fact that the way humans have organized industrial technology has us well on the way to frying the planet. Go on this way -- extending the lives of some lucky rich people in some places, immiserating other less lucky people in other places, and allowing the greedy and the needy to use up and destroy whatever humans can get our hands on -- pretty soon life is going to revert to "nasty, brutish and short" for whoever is still around.
My friend Brendan Smith warns that human-induced global warming is revealing that our existing political arrangements simply won't cut it. I'm taking the liberty here of reproducing his list of principles from the linked article:
We really have no alternative but to force our rulers to get with a survival program. That's going to have to go on at many levels: this movement needs scientists, and wonks, and political theorists, but also it simply needs stubborn, angry people.
We have learned a great deal more about the science of climate change and what must be done to halt it. But we have barely begun to discuss what kind of political change is necessary to do what must be done. Here are some principles to discuss for an alternative climate protection strategy:
1. Existing institutions, specifically states and markets, have decisively proven themselves unable to halt the plunge toward destruction of the biosphere.
2. National and world political systems are as dysfunctional for survival today as feudal principalities were for protecting their people in the face of capitalism and the modern nation state.
3. States are not legitimate if they allow their terrain or their institutions to be used to destroy the global environment. They have no right to govern. They are climate outlaws whose authority it is not only our right but our obligation to challenge.
4. Property rights are not legitimate if property is used to destroy the global environment. Corporations that emit greenhouse gases have no right to their property. They too are climate outlaws whose possessions it is not only our right but our obligation to challenge.
5. A climate protection movement must be conceived, not as governments agreeing to climate protection measures, but as people imposing rules on states, markets, and other institutions. We can begin to apply these rules locally by direct action wherever we are; we can support each others' action around the globe; and we can support the right of all the world's people to monitor and halt climate destroying emissions.
6. The legitimation for policy and action must be global necessity, not just national or other limited interest.
7. The blockades of coal facilities by direct action that have recently emerged in countries around the world form a brilliant beginning to this process. A new climate movement must expand that effort to impose climate protection rules by direct action.
8. Governments, corporations, and other institutions that threaten the survival of the planet should be subject to global popular boycotts and sanctions.
9. National and international economic policies must be redesigned to maximize global resources going to climate protection, rather than competing over the location of "green" production.
For starters, I urge everyone to visit 350.org and search their interactive map for a climate change action near you. On October 24, millions of people all over the world will be taking to the streets. We all need to be among them.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Holding Obama's feet to the fire?
Nonetheless, I find the topic interesting. Here are Ambinder's explications in italics followed by my commentary.
- "Democrats like and support Obama, as do liberals, but they're willing to be openly critical -- not always, but often enough, some more than others, in different forums."
However much we may like Obama, we think critically about our interaction with any leader. At least we do when we're being grown-ups. I've been criticized, possibly rightly, for being unwilling to jump on the guy about his evident enthusiasm for the uglier features of the imperial Presidency -- universal lawless surveillance, law-free detentions, and subverting privacy protections. He talks a lot better than he acts on LGBT issues too. And then there are the wars (though he never promised differently) ...
But like Obama, experience has made me both determined and practical. I take the attitude: he's what we've got to work on -- and we have work to do. Let's hammer the guy, knowing he's as close to "our guy" as we'll get.
- "Obama hasn't had his 9/11 game-changing moment, which, briefly, united the country around the former president. Perhaps the progressive universe will be less tolerant of internal criticism if some unexpected event intervenes."
- "..the progressive world developed and matured its protest/activist/speak freely orientation through technology, from the bottom up, as party coherence declined and Democratic leaders in Congress were generally seen as feckless."
Governing is hard -- every successful insurgent eventually discovers this. An apparatus built for resistance is likely to keep resisting unless it discovers something more satisfying to do. We're doing what we know best -- pushing on authority. That's a good thing; keeps 'em honest (more or less) however little insiders like it. Like his outright opponents, Obama has to win us over by delivering "change." Otherwise, at a minimum, he'll lose grassroots sentiment that protects his back. Governing would be tough indeed if liberals fall into deep disillusionment. We don't discourage easily -- remember Bush.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Race in the football trenches
It's not possible to watch football on TV and avoid thinking about race. When broadcasts begin by showing head shots of the starters on each team, I always count. Usually, the defense is mostly or all Black. So are most receivers and running backs. You get some white guys on the offensive line, maybe at tight end, and disproportionately at quarterback.
When this racial division isn't what I see, I watch the guys who are the anomalies -- a white cornerback or a black quarterback. Few of them are merely mediocre; most are really good at their positions. In 2007, 70 percent of NFL players were Black. Doug Williams was the first Black quarterback in the Super Bowl in 1988; I remember that. It was exciting.
Retired wide receiver Keenan McCardell pointed out that players are not ignorant about insults past.
In 2003, Limbaugh had said the media over-praised McNabb because he was a Black quarterback.
If I were a free agent it would be really hard for me to want to play for him. He'd have to show me that he's a different person. The coach would also have to convince me that this was about football and not politics. All the players would remember what he said about Donovan McNabb -- what got him fired from ESPN.
And Mathias Kiwanuka, the New York Giants defensive end pictured above, was even more blunt:
"All I know is from the last comment I heard, he said in (President) Obama's America, white kids are getting beat up on the bus while black kids are chanting 'right on,'" Kiwanuka told The Daily News. "I mean, I don't want anything to do with a team that he has any part of. He can do whatever he wants, it is a free country. But if it goes through, I can tell you where I am not going to play."
"I am not going to draw a conclusion from a person off of one comment, but when it is time after time after time and there's a consistent pattern of disrespect and just a complete misunderstanding of an entire culture that I am a part of, I can't respect him as a man."
How many taboos did Shields break there? Check it out.
...It's impossible to overstate the degree to which the broadcast of major spectator sports -- football, baseball, basketball -- is shadowed by the homosexual panic implicit in the fact that it consists for the most part of a bunch of out-of-shape white men sitting around talking about black men's buff bodies.