Friday, October 31, 2014

They mean to drag you out to vote

Are political robocalls driving you mad as we approach the end of the campaign season? Take them as a sign that the candidates and propositions that pay for them are as close to their wits end as you are.

Robocalls don't work. The research has been repeated over and over. The only people who tout them as effective are selling them. We hate having our voice mail flooded with unsolicited messages and we certainly are not convinced by recorded promptings.

So why do campaigns buy them? Because they are dirt cheap. And because at this stage, campaigns have run out of useful methods, within their budgets, to contact voters.

The arrival of Big Data in campaigns -- that is, of increasingly sophisticated and accurate ways to select voters who can be profitably targeted for turnout -- may be reaching the limits of its real world usefulness. Sure, a good, intelligently enhanced list of voters can point a campaign to potential supporters. Enhancement definitely includes the ability to follow these voters into their social media worlds. Coupled with smart polling, a campaign may even know what it might say to those selected voters. The potential seems either awe-inspiring, or freaky, depending on how you look at it.

But only the most well-funded campaigns will be able to deliver messages in forms that are attractive and audible to the targets. The campaign arena is just too cluttered.

The New York Times interviewed high end campaign consultants about this.

... as Joe Rospars, the founder of the Democratic digital agency and technology firm Blue State Digital, put it, “The science is ahead of the art.” An analytics team can help a campaign make “a much more targeted buy,” he explained, but that alone will not offer a particularly efficient return on investment if the ad is still “just a white guy in a suit.”

... “It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with all the possibilities you have,” said Alex Kellner, the digital director of Terry McAuliffe’s successful 2013 bid for governor of Virginia and now a director at Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic digital marketing firm. “More campaigns are moving in the direction of having that freak-out moment for a couple of days and saying, ‘Oh my gosh. Here’s all we can do. How can we get it all done?’ ”

The answer for some campaigns, simply, is that they cannot.

The combination of Big Data and careful political science research on what moves voters is reshaping campaigns. But these techniques work best at a grand scale with vast sums of cash available.

We're into the dregs of the season now. In hot campaigns, this is the moment when armies of door knockers -- old fashioned people-to-people contacts -- still can make a small difference, all within the political environment that the more sophisticated techniques have created for them over a long season.
Political science research has turned up only one simple, cost effective way to reliably increase voter turnout. Apparently, despite the reality that outside of Presidential years, less than half of eligible voters bother to vote, we definitely think of ourselves as people who value our ballots and therefore are "good" citizens. One of the curiosities of post-election polling is that more people say they voted (especially for the winners) than actually did. We like our self-image as voters, responsible participants in citizenship and society.

Information indicating which individuals actually voted is part of the public record. It doesn't show who you voted for, that's secret -- but whether you cast a ballot.

Experiments have proved that sending potential voters notices saying that their neighbors will be alerted after the election whether they voted is highly correlated with increased turnout. The tactic -- "voter shaming" --drives turnout like nothing else campaigns have come up with. Social pressure works.

This year, TPM reports that conservative PACs are trying out voter-shaming tactics in Alaska and Arkansas. Some recipients of these messages are outraged.

"It's nobody else's damn business."

I wonder whether campaigns will invest in measuring whether backlash exceeds the gains from these efforts. I suspect they will; Big Data marches on. I'm enough of a campaign geek to also wonder whether smart practitioners of the "art" of politics can figure out how to use this voter-exposure lever without setting off the backlash.

Friday cat blogging

At home (alone) with Morty after four months absence, I can scarcely escape constant surveillance and assistance -- or even keep him off the keyboard.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Celebratory eruptions

Stayed up past 2 am on account of last night's raucous celebrations of the Giants in the 'hood. I've learned from experience that, just in case something requires neighbors to rush outside, it is better to start with one's clothes on. Nothing rose to that level.

Further blogging is deferred.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Noted in San Francisco

Assume this is in reference to the Giants' World Series chances tonight.

Update at 9:30 pm: Hope is rewarded. Congratulations Giants!

Outside at 24th & Mission, crowds surge, fireworks explode, and helicopters circle. Last time the local team won, an inebriated teenager managed to climb onto and fall off our roof. Let's hope for less excess this time after a marvelous Series.

Hey Baby ...

I found this video upsetting and infuriating. I think most women will. This is simply what happens when women walk down the street.

You don't have to be young and attractive, as this woman is. Hell, I'm an old, slightly pudgy white-haired dyke who still jogs and I got intrusive comments from a couple of guys I passed by just yesterday. They do it to remind us that the streets, the outdoors in general, is their turf.

My harassers were white guys, by the way. If I have any critique of this video it is that makes it look as if the offending males are overwhelmingly Black and Latino. That strikes me as byproduct of filming in New York City. This behavior isn't about race; this is about guys asserting dominance.

If you want to be really upset, click over to YouTube and read the comments: a swarm of creeps want this woman (an actor) to understand that she just can't take a joke.

Full story by Amanda Hess at Slate.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ebola, AIDS: alike only in our hysteria

A haemorrhagic fever like Ebola seems uniquely terrifying: a high proportion of infected persons die quickly, leaking blood carrying the virus from every orifice. How could observers, even distant ones, not recoil in horror?

But any older gay San Franciscan recognizes all too well some elements of this country's response to Ebola. There's a terrible "here we go again" feeling watching the US flub the emerging pandemic. Once again, instead of responding to a disease threat by implementing and refining practical, science-based measures, politicians dither and citizens panic. We've seen this before: almost a decade into the AIDS crisis, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms led the charge for quarantine for persons with the markers of AIDS. The disease becomes an excuse for preexisting prejudices against gay people and anyone considered "other" to manifest. There are too many true tales of AIDS panic like the North Yorkshire health department that buried an AIDS patient in a concrete coffin; the child confined to a glass booth in her school room; and the motorist who ran over a pedestrian and asked an AIDS service agency whether he should decontaminate his car.

Today, people who have spent a lifetime working to change HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to chronic health condition are begging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to back off from abetting panic with their ill-considered quarantines.

“We have not forgotten how HIV/AIDS was at first largely ignored when it appeared to affect only marginalized communities or the stigma generated once fear of the virus took hold in the larger populations,” [five members] of Cuomo’s End of AIDS task force wrote in a letter urging the governor to remove the mandatory quarantine. “We have watched with growing concern,” the letter continued, “as Ebola virus disease was ignored far too long while confined to some of the poorest countries in the world, and how it has now led to hysteria here in the United States, based on only a very small number of cases.”

Ebola is not AIDS repeated. These days, it is hard to remember that for nearly a decade, we simply didn't know what caused AIDS (the HIV virus) or precisely how the disease was transmitted. And even once the virus was identified, testing "positive" -- showing the signs of an immune response to the virus -- was simply a death sentence. There were therapies that sometimes prolonged life, but people with HIV were going to die of it. (Actually there turned out to be a few very rare people who lived on with HIV, but we did not know that then.) And then -- it felt very sudden to those of us living in centers of the epidemic -- drug therapies were invented that made survival possible. Response to AIDS shifted to identifying persons who are infected and ensuring they receive and can afford the drugs.

The Ebola crisis is different from the AIDS crisis. Public health authorities come into this epidemic way further along in their competence. Scientists know what causes Ebola; there's a test that identifies its virus. The incubation period (21 days) and the onset of the infectious stage (visible symptoms) have been pinpointed. And although the death rate is horrendous, most especially in extremely poor West Africa where there are no modern medical facilities, everyone who gets Ebola does not die. World Health Organization estimates an average fatality rate of 50 percent.

Dr. Paul Farmer, chief strategist and co-founder of Partners in Health, warns of the special horror of Ebola in just the sort of place the current outbreak has been concentrated:

... The attempt to treat Ebola patients in a weak health system – or at home – has been strongly linked to the transmission of the virus. In several West African hospitals, Ebola has ripped through the professional staff: health professionals, nurses’ aides, morgue attendants. Understaffed and undersupplied, front-line health workers in West Africa have good reason to be afraid. We who aim to help them, though better equipped, are afraid too. The others at great risk, obviously enough, are the primary caregivers of the sick: not health professionals but family members, especially women.

Ebola is more a symptom of a weak healthcare system than anything else.

Farmer offers a mantra for what is needed to contain the epidemic: "staff, stuff, space and systems." (By stuff he means protective equipment for health workers and basic medical supplies.) And he makes a bold claim:

An Ebola diagnosis need not be a death sentence. Here’s my assertion as an infectious disease specialist: if patients are promptly diagnosed and receive aggressive supportive care – including fluid resuscitation, electrolyte replacement and blood products – the great majority, as many as 90 per cent, should survive.

My emphasis. I'm ready to believe Farmer. Just today, the second nurse who caught the disease from the Liberian victim who brought Ebola to Dallas has been released from the hospital, cured. (In the picture, President Obama shows genuine leadership by hugging the first Dallas nurse declared cured. If only posturing pols would stop trying to drown him out!)

If we don't want to live with Ebola popping up all over the world, causing havoc and misery in the poor countries where it can seed itself, we need to offer the wealth of this country to stopping it now in West Africa -- whatever that takes. Blustering for political points isn't going to serve anyone. Diseases don't respond to hot air.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Voting miscellancy

As we come up on what, nationally anyway, seems likely to be a depressing election (but do vote!) various interesting tidbits float by.

Republican attempts in states they control to make voting harder for young people and people of color are the big story, but there are also the usual sprinkling of significant sub-themes in this year's contest.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has issued an interesting snapshot of Muslim voters in California, New York, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and Virginia. It looks as if this is yet another hard-working immigrant constituency that Republicans have managed to alienate.
You just don't leap in line with people who treat you as if you were the plague. (Hey, Chris Christie, remember that before you beat up on altruistic nurses.) Sixty-nine percent of eligible Muslims surveyed say they'll vote this year; their top issues were combating Islamophobia and civil liberties along with the economy.

Since the Census does not count religious affiliations, there are no certain numbers for how many Muslims are citizens. Estimates for this population run about 2.6 million; that makes it likely that there are at least one million voting eligible Muslims in play, clustered largely in the states CAIR surveyed.
This video was put out in 2012, but it is always pertinent for transpeople whose IDs may not match the gender appearance they present.
Here in California we are voting on a sensible state initiative, Prop. 47, that will begin to undo the crazy mass incarceration our pols gave us in response to a real crime wave in the 1980s and to a some particular outrages. We've begun to notice that locking up non-violent, low level offenders for long sentences merely creates what amount to community colleges of bad behavior as well as decimating the neighborhoods these (mostly) young men derive from. The initiative will save the state bundles of money on prisons by making these offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies, using the savings for programs that build the life chances of individuals and communities. Let's hope we can let go our fear to enact this sensible measure.

A little noted side benefit of reducing the felony sentencing binge will be to make voting seem a more possible collective mode for redress of community grievances than it has been. California is actually fairly liberal about the voting rights of people sentenced for crimes: people convicted of misdemeanors have never been prevented from voting; felons are only barred when actually in prison or under parole or other state supervision. But in communities where many, many young people carry a felony record, a belief that voting is "not for us" takes hold. Yet, as the summer's events in Ferguson showed, these are exactly the communities where people need to seize the leverage afforded by the ballot. Prop. 47 is a step in this direction.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mission homecoming

Back in San Francisco, I'm once again at ground zero for a novel and painful urban transformation. The Google buses transporting affluent tech workers in and out of the neighborhood roll on; resentment from longer term residents potentially or actually displaced runs high. Most of us will be voting YES on Measure G, a modest impediment to rampant real estate speculation.

A few observations after a four month absence, all perhaps merely the result of spending most of four months in car-centered US exurbia.
  • Parallel parking is a necessary skill here. I don't think I had to do it more an a couple of times driving across the country. It comes back quickly, but the unfamiliarity helps me understand how foreign most of our fellow citizens find any city.
  • My partner says the streets feel more densely crowded than when we left. That makes sense if poorer people hit with rising rents are crowding into smaller rental units.
  • Venturing into one of the city's more squalid blocks to snap photos, I thought the street scene seemed a bit more painful than usual.
The second two items may simply reflect that San Francisco has enjoyed unusually comfortable weather for the last two months, so we're not huddled inside against the fog. Or maybe four months away has de-urbanized us.

There's no question that many of my neighbors feel under attack.

The landlord chasing the almighty dollar is an obvious culprit.

This street complaint is more sophisticated but also more debatable. "Tech" is a culture, nowadays a controlling, confining corporate one, but certainly a sort of "culture," just not the kind that long time Mission and many other city residents would choose for themselves. Artists and poor immigrants simply don't fit in the world the current crop of newcomers are creating. They don't have enough money. Note however that the creator of this bit of lamppost art uses the ubiquitous tools of the new "culture" to communicate.

In the 1970s and 80s, we called this kind of development -- expensive, antiseptic, homogenized -- "Manhattanization." Having spent some time recently on the Upper West Side, I think we were right then and we can see where this goes. Sure, that neighborhood still has pockets of middle-income people and business hanging on, but chain retailers have crowded out most old-time stores on Broadway. Want to shop somewhere "different"? There are still plenty of gourmet foods outlets, but Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are working to reduce their number. Even New York, that most "urban" of US cities, is losing diversity to corporate culture. Jane Jacobs spelled out the consequences two decades ago.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Electoral selfishness: YES on H; NO on I and L

Is it ethical citizenship to decide how to vote based on preserving a not-entirely-necessary amenity you happen to enjoy? On some matters, I think so.

Yesterday for my precinct photography project I was wandering in a bit of San Francisco near Ocean Beach and encountered a classic election season war among dueling signs for several measures on the city ballot.

Measure H would halt replacement of existing soccer fields at the Ocean Beach end of Golden Gate Park with artificial turf and the addition of 150,000 watts of sports lighting that will shine every day of the year. That is, Parks and Rec and the City authorities want to transform the quite wild trails and byways of the park's west end into just one more mid-city style urban recreation area. According to the folks who put Prop. H on the ballot,

the Golden Gate Master Plan states that Golden Gate Park is naturalistic in character, “designed and managed to afford opportunities for all to experience beauty, tranquility, recreation, and relief from urban pressures ...”

The existing west end of the park does just that. On the east end, the section that adjoins the city, we have the De Young Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, Kezar Stadium, the kind of developments that draw San Franciscans and tourists. At the west end has some recreation areas including the mammoth Polo Fields, but much of it is still quite undeveloped.

I run those west end trails often; I come down YES on H. I want to preserve that open space, those odd nooks and crannies. If Park and Rec can find the money to do some development, I think they can put their artificial turf and light pollution somewhere else and leave a little wildness in an area where I've seen raccoons and coyotes within the past year.

A few houses displayed this sign: Measure. I is Park and Rec's poison pill. If it passes and gets more votes than Measure H, it would throw out the vote on the other one and enable Park and Rec to avoid any more of these tortuous planning processes that have impeded their Ocean Beach soccer fields. A vote for I is a vote for artificial turf anywhere bureaucrats decide we must have it. Just Say NO.

I only saw one of these. Measure L seems to be an aggrieved car owners' manifesto against city policies that aim to reduce automobile use. It would end the city's attempt to activate metered parking on Sundays and holidays, would require neighborhood approval for addition of new meters, and would require construction of parking garages.

I'm a car owner. I drive a disabled friend to church on Sundays and I've been threatened by Sunday metering though I've managed to dodge tickets. If meters were added on my street (and there have been initiatives in that direction), this would be a major inconvenience to me. I try hard not to drive in the most congested areas of the city; we actually have somewhat usable public transit. So I'm not so interested in more parking garages.

But come on, it is dead obvious that if we hope to have liveable cities and a liveable planet, we have to get over our addiction to polluting private cars. NO on L. It will be telling how the city goes on this one.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Seasonal expenditures

Every election season we are buried in glossy mailers and bombarded by TV ads. I don't even live in a state where there are any significant contests for higher offices and yet I am surrounded by pitches for and against this and that.

Think what this must feel like in areas where close contests are being fought out: Wisconsin or Iowa, for example.

All this costs candidates and the "committees," whether independent or party-affiliated, a pretty penny. (Yes, raising the $$ is certainly corrosive and corrupting of democracy.)

David S. Joachim reports that interested parties are on track to spend some $4 billion on this year's election.

That's a lot of money! But it is important to keep the sum in perspective:

... Americans will spend nearly twice that amount this year on Halloween costumes, decorations and candy.

Is this disparity representative of what matters to most of us? Actually, I don't think so. But I do think most people have more idea how to celebrate Halloween than are able to imagine ways of participating more actively in their democracy.

Friday cat blogging; more travel and talks

We were glad to see that Morty still rules the roost on the home front. It took him about two hours to accept that we were truly his humans even if we'd been absent for four months.

I'm not sure he's figured out that one of us has already gone back on the road -- to a board meeting of the organization whose pillow Morty is perched beside here. Rebecca is again wandering the East Coast talking about Mainstreaming Torture.

She'll will be at the bookstore Busboys & Poets (2021 14th St, NW
 [at V] Washington, D.C. 20009) on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.

On Wednesday, October 29, 2014 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m, she'll be at the Church Center of the United Nations (777 UN Plaza, New York) for a brown bag discussion sponsored by the Loretto Community and September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vote Yes on Measure P

What's this? There is no Measure P on San Francisco's engorged November ballot. This one is in Santa Barbara County but it matters to all of us.

Residents of the area want to ban fracking. This oil and gas extraction technology is endangering their water supply, the air, their health, and their tourist economy. Governor Brown and state legislators didn't listen to them. As Thomas Murray explains in the video

It's frustrating because I can't call and make an appointment with Governor Brown or a congressperson and have lunch with them because I don't have that kind of money but the oil companies can send their lobbyists to have lunch and dinner and breakfast five days a week with these people and convince them to make laws that aren't good for me.

Oil companies are spending $5.7 million to defeat Measure P, according to sponsors. They want to stop this citizen uprising against polluting technology, whatever it takes.

Ordinary folks don't have the money to level the playing field, but we can help a little and get the word out that there are brave folks fighting fracking in their backyards (literally) in California.

A similar fracking ban, Measure J, is also on the ballot in San Benito County.

H/t Food and Water Watch.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#EndTorture: organizing for the UN review of the USA

You might think that signing on to an international treaty -- making promises to the nations of the world -- would mean you'd attempt to abide by what you promised. These days, for the United States, some of our treaty obligations seem to be treated as so much blank paper, occasions for political spin.

The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was passed in the General Assembly in 1984, signed by President Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate in 1994. In theory, we're on board with 80 other nations.

I'd be remiss if I didn't add that I've just listened my partner the author give a couple of dozen talks around the country explaining that US accession to the treaty was qualified by some magic (limiting) asterisks legally called "reservations." Our authorities apparently wanted to be sure the CIA could go on doing "academic research" on how to replicate North Korean "brainwashing" techniques used on US prisoners in that early Cold War conflict. And they were concerned that someone would claim that treatment of persons in US prisons might be torture. So the US enabling legislation only outlaws torture outside the country. Within our boundaries, legal claims of torture are covered (if recognized at all) by other existing laws.

All this is introduction to the fact that countries which have signed the treaty against torture come up for periodic review of their compliance by a United Nations Committee Against Torture. The United States will next have its turn this November 11-13 in Geneva.

In advance of that meeting, the New York Time's relentless torture reporter Charlie Savage tells us that some lawyers in the Obama administration seek to revert to Bush-era weaseling about what treatment of prisoners amounts to torture in order to give our spooks all the freedom they want to mistreat captives without fear of punishment. The Prez may be on board with this sophistry.

Meanwhile, there is an organized US-based effort to call the United States to account for torture practices. The US Human Rights Network has collected dozens of "shadow reports" that have been submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture detailing potential and actual violations of US treaty obligations. Some examples:
  • The Harvard Law School Human Rights Program recommends that "the United States promptly and impartially prosecute senior military and civilian officials responsible for authorizing, acquiescing, or consenting in any way to acts of torture committed by their subordinates" including former President G.W. Bush and former DOJ lawyer John Yoo.
  • The National Religious Campaign against Torture (NRCAT) calls out "the continued widespread practice of holding prisoners, disproportionately people of color in prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons" as does another another shadow report from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), and California Prison Focus (CPF).
  • The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) protests a "convergence of criminal and immigration law" which obscures the US obligation to entertain claims that deportation to home countries will subject individuals to violence and torture.
The full list of shadow reports is available at the link. They are absolutely worth perusing. We have far too many possible violations of the treaty and of simple human decency to answer for!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Best new candidate of 2014 gets an unlikely endorsement

Author Stephen King has a message for residents of Maine. If elected, Shenna Bellows could be trusted to be a Senator who understands and advocates for civil liberties. We have Elizabeth Warren standing up for the economic well-being of the 99 percent. We need an equivalent leader who stands strong for the rule of law.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Drought, California's water supply, and Proposition 1

Today the most extraordinary thing happened to me: I got rained on while running along the beach in San Francisco. I hadn't figured on that possibility. Aren't we stuck in an epic drought? Yes, we are.

Having just driven through the Central Valley where parched fields and these signs abound and turned on the TV to catch Gov. Jerry banging a drum for a YES vote on Prop. 1 (and Prop. 2), I figured I'd better find out about the measure, the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014.

California is an unstable, unsustainable quagmire when it comes to water policy. The state is largely a desert, rendered abundantly fertile by siphoning water from rivers and mountains, into which 38 million people have flooded to enjoy sunshine and prosperity. At best, for decades we've been running just a little ahead of water collapse.

With the current drought and the prospect of human-caused higher temperatures in the future, the house of cards that has been our water policy seems to be breaking down. Valley residents whose wells are throwing up sand and brown sludge not surprisingly call on the government to help. It's not clear that the state can or will.

Prop. 1 seems to be a laboriously negotiated Sacramento compromise, a glancing blow at deep problems designed by such broad forces so as to please most everyone just a little. Pretty much all the big guns -- elected officials, both political parties and the state unions and the Chamber of Commerce, and the Farm Bureau Federation -- are on board with it. Some enviros are supporters. Here's some of the pitch I received today from the California League of Conservation Voters.

... the investments within this bond seek to address many environmental concerns that that directly affect water supply and access. Passage of the bond will improve access to and quality of drinking water statewide by funding water quality projects in several categories: safe drinking water, recycled water, regional water security, groundwater sustainability and coastal/ river protection. The bond will directly fund ecosystem and watershed restoration, protecting the California coast, the Sacramento River delta, and watersheds that provide California’s water supply. Finally, the bond takes steps to protect communities with the least access to clean water supplies by creating a technical assistance program and prioritizing state funding on the needs of the disadvantaged communities.

Opponents of Prop. 1 are some strange bedfellows. The Center for Biological Diversity argues for a NO.

1. The bond subsidizes more delta water exports. ... This will be very bad news for dozens of endangered and threatened species that call the [Sacramento River] delta home.

2. The bond will make way for new dams and reservoirs. The bond provides $2.7 billion for additional water storage projects to benefit Big Ag, including the Sites, Los Vaqueros and Temperance Flat reservoirs. Building these dams and reservoirs is misguided: It's a grossly expensive way to facilitate Big Ag's access to minimal additional water resources. The result will harm fragile ecosystems which need this water to survive.

3. The bond fails to bring real water solutions to California. The bond slashes funding for water conservation, efficiency and recycling to $1.5 billion -- just half of what it allocates to build new dams and reservoirs. ...

There's some evidence that opposition involves a pincer movement of the water-rich far north and the arid far south of the state. The Chico Enterprise-Register argues that

We in the north state are expected to solve the water problems south of the delta. We will be compelled to solve those problems whether we like it or not. .... We eye Proposition 1 with suspicion, because history has taught us it's wise to do so. It's a $7.5 billion dollar crapshoot that we're likely to lose, no matter how the dice fall.

Some San Diegans also believe that the rest of the state is failing them.

Marco Gonzalez, a prominent environmental attorney from the San Diego region, said Proposition 1 offers little for the local area.

“From a San Diegan’s perspective, Proposition 1 ignores the fact that we are at the end of the water pipeline, and among the most precarious regions susceptible to impacts of long term drought,” Gonzalez, head of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, wrote in a recent U-T San Diego commentary. “With more than $5 billion allocated to projects on the San Joaquin River, Shasta Lake, and reservoirs in Contra Costa and Merced counties, San Diego and the rest of Southern California are being hung out to dry.”

Having just spent several hours reading the pros and cons, I am still not convinced that I know which way to go on this. When opponents object that we can't build our way out of our water shortage, they score points with me. As temperatures rise (a certainty) and population increases (not quite such a certainty given the disproportion between housing costs and job opportunities for most people), further fights over who gets the water are a certainty. I'm not sure whether Prop. 1 helps or hurts.

The outfit that distributes these signs urges a NO vote.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Evidence we are all different

When you are fortunate enough to have a dear friend who agrees stay in your house while you travel about for four months, on your return you know some items will have been moved around. People have different ideas about how to organize their lives.

Cat litter in the freezer was unexpected. When I get a chance to find out why she kept it there, I'll add the answer here.

Update: The promised answer to the puzzle. Apparently the cat litter, a wheat kernel variety, arrived from Amazon and proceeded to exude little black bugs. The cat refused it! And it sure wasn't something anyone wanted around. Our house sitter didn't know who had ordered it or paid for it and wanted to keep the evidence if someone wanted to make a complaint to Amazon.


After four months, we're home. Here the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. Finally we feel the ocean is in the "right" direction.

Regular blogging will resume as soon as I catch my breath.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Searching for salad across America

When we launched off in June on the 14,000 mile road trip that is the bookapalooza, one of my fears had nothing to do with whether Rebecca's talks about Mainstreaming Torture would be well received.

My great fear was that I wouldn't be able to find anything green to eat on the road. I remembered a trip to rural Colorado in 2001 when there seemed no escape from burgers and fries and, for an exotic variation, over-cooked pasta. So I resolved to record whatever salads might be available across the country.

Good news: just about every town and even highway rest stop served something like a salad. A durable change has come to mid-America almost everywhere.

Here are some of the salads we found on the road:

At a local cafe in Woodland, CA

Whitefish, MT

A chain outlet in New York City's financial district

At Chop Fresh you select the ingredients and an army of workers churns out your choices cheaply. Great lunch!

No surprise that a random cafe in a New Orleans' French Quarter can provide a salad ...

But who expected something this good from a Newk's in Hattiesburg MS?

Here's a fruity turkey salad from Knoxville TN

West Memphis AR was the closest thing to food desert we encountered, but even there a truck stop Denny's produced this -- complete with Texas toast.

The salad I liked most was from Central Foods in Spokane. Simple, subtle, and surprisingly good dressing.
If you can afford it -- and often the toll is no more than for a burger -- you don't have to starve for live food on the highways anymore!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola security theater

It's not easy to raise a laugh out of our current Ebola hysteria, but the New York Times inadvertently gave me one this morning. The Prez has been trapped, between his health officials' missteps and GOP fear-mongering, forced to name an "Ebola Czar." That's what you do when you've lost your grip on the narrative.

The gent who gets the ugly job is one Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to both Al Gore and Joe Biden. The "newspaper of record" reports his qualifications:

Mr. Klain is known for his ability to handle high-stakes and fast-moving political crises. He was the lead Democratic lawyer for Mr. Gore during the 2000 election recount, and was later played by Kevin Spacey in the HBO drama “Recount” about the disputed contest.

Okay -- we hope Klain is as polished as the actor.

And we can hope the administration puts the bulk of its Ebola efforts into the only actions that would actually increase the security of people here and around world: ending the unchecked epidemic in West Africa. True medical experts on the disease are beginning to think that the best hope for control is to develop a vaccine.

"Being afraid at all is the wrong thing to do ..."

Do not listen to the hysterical voices on radio and television or read the fear provoking words online ...

You may have heard that a Fox News TV talking head contradicted his network mates by offering the naked truth about the U.S. ebola outbreak. I didn't choose to view this at first. But if you haven't seen it, you might like to run it. It is hard to be more unambiguously direct than Shep Smith is here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Unbounded volatility

Feeling mystified by current Middle Eastern events and the latest iteration of U.S interventions in Iraq and in Syria? Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn, long time reporter for The Independent, has taken an early crack at explaining in The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the new Sunni Uprising.

This is a quickie book, meant to answer an immediate hunger for some idea of how a potent bunch of terrorist fanatics called (sometimes) ISIS could have suddenly overrun much of two countries. Based on Cockburn's own reporting, the result is somewhat Iraq-centric. It has probably been somewhat more possible to report from Baghdad than Damascus of late. But he's got a fairly coherent theory that is presented in this small book.

Cockburn locates the essential background to current events in two factors. First, the generations-long promotion of an intolerant variant of Islam by oil-rich Saudi Arabia. When you've got almost infinite cash to pass around, you can construct an awful lot of mosques and schools that teach your brand of religion; the Saudis have been at that project since 1945. And little as the U.S. likes the result, we've seldom said "boo" against it.

Cockburn's second background condition has been the Western world's war on Arab nationalism, in particular on Saddam Hussein's Iraq. After feeding Iraqi persistence in its long war against Iran in the 1980s and then smashing Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991, Western-backed U.N. sanctions throughout the 1990s pretty much destroyed what remained of a functioning Iraqi state. The consequence, continuing and intensifying through the US invasion and occupation of the 2000s, has been to put all the functions of a government -- handing out bureaucratic jobs, law enforcement and criminal justice, even the military -- up for sale from whoever had grabbed the power of appointment to whoever would pay. Iraq became one of the most corrupt societies in the world. No wonder the Iraqi army of some 400,000 men put up almost no resistance to a couple of thousand ISIS fighters on the move in northern Iraq this summer. The officers sold the troops their positions, then pocketed half their salaries, and most of any money for supplies.

Soldiers were sent to the front with only four clips of ammunition for the AK-47s; they went hungry because their commanders had embezzled the money to be spent on food; in oil-rich Iraq, fuel for army vehicles was in short supply; some battalions were down to a quarter of their established strength.

According to Cockburn, the West frequently, and sometimes willfully, misinterpreted the upheavals of the Arab Spring. Worse, Arab insurgents themselves were poorly equipped to lead their own societies.

In March 2011, mass arrests and torture effortlessly crushed the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. Innovations in technology may have changed the odds marginally in favor of the opposition, but not enough to prevent counter-revolution, as the military coup in Egypt on July 3, 2013 underscored.The initial success of street demonstrations led to over-confidence and excessive reliance on spontaneous action; the need for leadership, organization, unity, and policies that amounted to more than a vague humanitarian agenda all went by the wayside. ... Many members of the intelligentsia in Libya and Syria seemed to live and think within the echo chamber of the internet. Few expressed practical ideas about the way forward.

... The Arab Spring revolts were a strange mixture of revolution, counterrevolution, and foreign intervention. The international media often became highly confused about what was going on. The revolutionaries of 2011 had many failings but they were highly skilled at influencing and manipulating press coverage. ... Good reporters still took immense risks, and sometimes paid with their lives, trying to explain that there was more to what was happening than [an] oversimplified picture, But the worst media coverage, particularly in the first two years of the revolts, was very bad indeed. ... Predictably, such news was so biased and unreliable that the real course of events turned out to be full of unexpected developments and nasty surprises. This is likely to continue.

Cockburn concludes that the U.S., the West, and Middle Eastern peoples are in for a long, ugly, and likely bloody passage. He's not the sort of reporter who prognosticates, but what he sees is unstable and frightening.

The region has always been treacherous ground for foreign intervention, but many of the reasons for Western failure to read the situation in the Middle East are recent and self inflicted. The US response to the attacks of 9/11 in 2001 targeted the wrong countries when Afghanistan and Iraq were identified as the hostile states whose governments needed to be overthrown. Meanwhile, the two countries most involved in supporting al-Qa'ida and favoring the ideology behind the attacks, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, were largely ignored and given a free pass. Both were long-standing US allies and remained so despite 9/11. ...

It was not governments alone that got it wrong. So too did the reformers and revolutionaries who regarded the "Arab Spring" of 2011 as a death blow to the old authoritarian regimes across the region....Unexpectedness is in the nature of revolutionary change. I have always believed that if I can spot a revolution coming, so can the head of the Mukhabarat security police. He will do everything possible to prevent it happening.

...The political, social, and economic roots of the upsurges of 2011 are very complex. ... Protestors, skilled in propaganda if nothing else, saw the advantage of presenting the uprisings as unthreatening, "velvet" revolutions with English-speaking, well-educated bloggers and tweeters prominently in the vanguard. ...Opposition demands were all about personal freedom: social and economic inequalities were rarely declared to be issues, even when they were driving popular rage against the status quo. ... Economic liberalization, lauded in foreign capitals, was rapidly concentrating wealth in the hands of a politically well-connected few. Even members of the [Syrian] Mukhabarat, the secret police, were trying to survive on $200 a month...

What is the glue that [was] supposed to hold these new post-revolutionary states together? Nationalism isn't much in favor in the West, where it is seen as a mask for racism or militarism, supposedly outmoded in an era of globalization and humanitarian intervention. ... But without nationalism -- even where the unity of the nation is something of a historic fiction -- states lack an ideology that enables them to compete as a focus of loyalty with religious sects or ethnic groups.

... The deteriorating situation in Iraq and Syria may now have gone too far to re-create genuinely unitary states. Iraq is breaking up...

Time will tell how far the redrawing of maps will go -- and which forces get to decide whatever new boundaries come to be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scared witless amid murderous phantasms

In central Arizona, this piece of Republican tripe seemed to be running in an endless loop on broadcast TV.

The same terrorists targeted by U.S. bombers for destruction in Syria and Iraq are coming to the U.S. to attack the homeland through the Mexican border.

That's how Time Magazine summarizes the political ad's message, before pointing out that the hyped threat has been "repeatedly refuted."

Delaware Senator Chris Coons tweeted Johnathan Cohn's unexceptional article, which points out that a tiny number of Ebola cases in the United States and Europe are a minor threat compared to "the real problem, which is the outbreak in West Africa and the toll it is taking there."

He received in turn hundreds of messages like this:

Too many people in this country are scared witless. Okay, it is obvious that keeping us terrified serves the interests of the Republicans. Their only policy proposals are to take necessary services away from the majority and give the country's resources to the one percent -- these are not very popular ideas when when people understand them, so they need us to remain witless.

But why are so many ready, even eager, to be governed by fears? The music historian and cultural critic Greil Marcus thinks the mere fact of there being a Black president has driven some of us over the edge.

... when you look at the murder of Trayvon Martin, when you look at the murder of Michael Brown, when you look at those situations, it’s not unrelated to Obama being president, but it’s more the way in which the country has reframed itself or rewritten itself since his election, with all kinds of people saying to themselves, maybe never putting it into words, just feeling it, “There’s a fucking n--er in the White House? Well fuck you, n--er, whoever you are.” And an inchoate loathing and hatred that seeks out its targets.

I’m not a psychiatrist, I haven’t sat down and interviewed George Zimmerman or the cop who shot Michael Brown, I don’t know what their motives are, I don’t know what kind of people they are, what kind of childhood traumas they have experienced. But I don’t think it’s nuts that in a certain way, when that cop killed Michael Brown, and when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, they were killing Barack Obama. ...

Sometimes my fellow citizens scare me. That seems an appropriate fear.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Evidence that this is a strange country

This chart, from Vox, illustrates a paradox. Thanks to the Supremes deciding not to engage with the rapidly expanding set of legal decisions allowing same-sex marriage in state after state, there are now 8 states where LGBT people can legally get married -- but where you can then be fired for being gay.

Those states are in white on the map: Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

More struggles ahead.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A long struggle for both autonomy and inclusion

On this Indigenous People's Day (aka Columbus Day) it seems right to quote some observations from the descendants of original inhabitants from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Their effort to preserve cultural and legal autonomy is summarized in this statement:

Sovereignty continues to be challenged and yet is sustained in spite of challenges from governments, agencies and individuals.

In 1924, a Citizenship Act finally made the people of the Pueblos into citizens of the United States.

Not all Indian people viewed citizenship as a something wonderful. Their experience in dealing with Washington and the states did not give them much confidence in government or desire to participate in it. Some feared they would have to give up their own sovereignty. Some feared this would open up taxing for their lands.

"United States citizenship is just another way of absorbing us and destroying our customs and our government. We had our citizenship ... Our citizenship is with our nations."

The state of New Mexico didn't actually treat native residents as full citizens until after losing a court case brought by a native veteran of World War II in 1948. Until then, the Pueblo people were considered merely "Indians not taxed" and denied the right to vote.

This was a monumental event ushering in new opportunities for representation in state, local and national elections. It would take many years before this was fully realized. Early advocates of political participation were ridiculed by their own Pueblo people. Their persistence however paved the way ...

As late as 2004, my own experience with electoral organizing in the state included running into many obstacles to getting Pueblo people onto the voter rolls. Today there is at least one State Representative who comes from a Pueblo community.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Native American wellness

During our stay here in Albuquerque, we enjoyed an opportunity to visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The 19 Pueblos of New Mexico intend the museum to "preserve and perpetuate Pueblo culture and to advance understanding by presenting, with dignity and respect, the accomplishments and evolving history of the Pueblo people of New Mexico."

The exhibits included many arresting examples of native arts and crafts as well as historical artifacts. But I was particularly drawn to the three rooms which describe this people's history and society, imposing their own periodization and outlining a conception of a good community.

I've copied below a panel describing a communal understanding of well-being for all the stages of life. I found it very much worth pondering.

Being healthy means ...
to be able to participate in activities of the Pueblo, both physically and emotionally,
to be physically, mentally, and spiritually secure, living to a ripe age of 90+.
to be there to see your grandchildren and children grow into adults.
to be without excessive worry, fear and stress.
to be happy alone and with others.

Ways our People Stay Healthy:

*Participating in traditional dancing and ceremonies
*Utilizing traditional healing
*Helping out in good times (weddings) and bad times (funerals) in the village
*Chopping wood
*Doing physical chores (housework, yard and ditch cleaning)
*Participating in Senior Olympics
*Working out
*Participating in health programs (classes, health workshops, health events)


"Healing does not take place alone; it takes place in the context of family."

"When we think about our traditional calendar -- the activities that happen that engage the entire community for sometimes week to week, from month to month ... the central purpose of our engagement is all about sustaining a healthy spirit, mind and body as part of that engagement."

"Everything that comes along with participating [in the traditional calendar] is about being a healthy person. If you are in that framework during your daily life, it is not hard to be healthy."

SFIS Leadership Institute 2007

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday scenes and scenery: New Mexico fall folliage

The trail climbs Fourth of July Canyon, just east and south of Albuquerque.

Maples and oaks grow alongside and below a canopy of evergreens including great Ponderosa pines.

The display is worthy of the canyon's name.

Friday, October 10, 2014

How to lose the people

Sometimes you might think that no one who makes decisions in the Obama administration ever worked a day in their lives.

Two examples:
  • With considerable fanfare, the Prez announced in 2011 that home care workers would finally be included under the country's minimum wage laws, becoming entitled to higher pay and overtime. For forty years, these people (mostly women; often immigrants and/or of color) who take care of the sick and elderly in their homes had been treated as not-quite-genuine workers, so not deserving of elementary protections. The Department of Labor even wrote regulations. But in this election season, the bureaucracy announced it won't be enforcing the new rules in 2015. What good is that to people who work for so little return that they and their families end up on food stamps and Medicaid?
  • Even more outrageously, the administration has weighed in against workers who are seeking to be paid for time they spend waiting around to be searched before leaving their employers' premises. Amazon workers claim this daily process can take up to 25 minutes. The legal arguments are labyrinthine, but the situation is simple and ought to obvious: if keeping your job means you must give the job your time, you should get paid for that time. The Supreme Court seems unfriendly to this obvious reality and the administration is no better.
Bloomberg View commentator Francis Wilkinson insightfully suggests that, regardless of how Democrats fare in the upcoming midterms, this is "a moment of triumph for the party."

The nation's key social evolutions -- civil rights, the women's movement, gay rights, a demographic revolution driven by historic waves of immigration -- all bear a Democratic brand. The party has been an agent of the change sought by women and minorities and a mediating force in the conflicts that evolving power relations inevitably engender.

This is a serious achievement in the face of gruesome history, lingering cross-resentments and a sizable, if steadily dwindling, population of whites who (consciously or not) perceive racial privilege as the natural order of heaven and earth.

True, I think. But insofar as the emerging majority becomes normalized, they will assert just demands for a fair share of the country's wealth. The one percent have been getting almost all the economic gains of the past 40 years. Can the Democrats represent their constituents in this struggle? It is not at all clear that the answer is "yes."

Friday critter blogging: peaceable kingdom edition

Koshka is the head honcho here.

He knows he has nothing to worry about.

Vinegar is anxious and eager.

Chulo is simply beautiful.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Race and the death penalty revisited

In 2012 I had the privilege of working on a California campaign to end death sentences by making life without parole the state's harshest punishment for awful crimes. The initiative failed narrowly.

In the course of the campaign I unavoidably learned a great deal about why many voters insist on preserving death as a option in response to atrocious acts. A considerable number really believe that the state can and should step in to deliver God's (or the universe's) intended punishment to wrongdoers. But many voters, probably far more, simply cling to the death option through a kind of inertia: they assume unspeakable acts should call forth from the community some sort of equally violent response. We are habituated to believe killers deserve to be killed. Unless we are deeply involved with the criminal justice system, we don't think much about the implications of an easy equation of justice with the death option.

In July 2014, a federal judge ruled California's death penalty system unconstitutionally arbitrary and dysfunctional. The state is appealing this ruling. Meanwhile, for the time being, and possibly forever, the state is out of the execution business.

In the 2012 campaign, we talked very little about racial discrepancies in the application of the death penalty, but they persist.

Racial identities unequivocally do play out in the application of law and criminal justice. California had and has the country's largest contingent of condemned prisoners; 743 at last count. Among these, 36 percent are Black, 35 percent white, 24 percent Latino, 2 percent Native American and 3 percent Asian. In the state population at large in 2013 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state's racial breakdown was 6.6 percent Black, 39 percent white, 38 percent Latino, 1.7 percent Native American, 14.1 percent Asian, and 3.7 percent persons claiming two or more races. California death sentences have long been out of line with the state's racial composition.

All this is background I wanted to give to a report on a recent study of how white racial bias puts a disproportionate number of African Americans at risk of death sentences in states that retain the practice (32 at present). According to Dara Lind reporting at Vox, the 2012 campaign was smart not to harp on the racial disparities in capital cases.

The death penalty in the United States has a race problem. ... it's not the racial disparities in the outcome that are most illustrative of the death penalty's race problem. It's the racial disparities throughout the entire process: African Americans are simultaneously the people most affected by death-penalty cases, and the people least likely to have a say in them. ...

Sixty-three percent of whites support the death penalty, as opposed to 36 percent of African Americans (and 40 percent of Hispanics).

There's evidence that calling attention to the racial disparities doesn't make whites more wary of supporting the death penalty — it makes them more enthusiastic. [Emphasis added.] One 2007 study looked at whether poll respondents were less likely to support the death penalty after hearing various arguments against it. It found that whites "actually become more supportive of the death penalty upon learning that it discriminates against blacks." (This is similar to other studies, which have shown white people are more likely to support harsh prison policies if they believe that black people are overrepresented in prisons.)

There's some unvarnished racism at work here that makes Black defendants far more "death-worthy" than other criminal offenders.

Lind goes on to detail how Blacks are routinely, and legally, excluded from juries in death penalty cases with the result that Black defendants are not judged by a jury of their peers. Further, the legal system excludes the statistical evidence that might enable Black defendants to show how systemic racial bias works. The entire article is important reading.