Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday cat blogging

Panther is probably pleased that his human servant is home from the hospital. But like most self-respecting cats, he doesn't let on much, merely performing his job by being beautiful.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A vote counting anachronism

So, as the SF Chronicle puts it, "Dem rout of CA GOP nearly complete ..." Challenger T.J. Cox is claiming victory in CA-21, the central San Joaquin Valley congressional seat that has long tantalized Democrats. The Dems have enjoyed a 17 point advantage in party registrations, yet couldn't close the deal until now. The incumbent GOPer David Valadao ran up a several thousand vote lead on election day, but has now fallen what is thought to be impossibly far behind in votes still being counted.

So why does it take California so long to finish counting the ballots?

Partly this is because state law encourages us to vote by mail and allows ballots postmarked by election day to be included in the tally. State law also encourages voters who encounter to questions about their ballots to cast a "provisional" vote -- and these too must be checked out by county registrars to complete the count. And so the painstaking process can take a few weeks ... all that seems a good thing.

But I find myself wondering about whether a significant social change may be eroding a main means by which ballots in these long counts are verified. The League of Women Voters explains:

Your signature must match the signature on your voter registration application form.

And there's the question: Who in our contemporary world is accustomed to using a replicable, readily recognizable signature?

I had to "sign" a receipt and a medical release form yesterday, both times on a tablet. One result looked like this:
This actually does vaguely resemble what I suspect is on my 1993 voter reg form: it clearly has two parts and, just maybe, the initial letter is a "J". But by the standards of previous times, it is hardly a "signature." When my mother first introduced me to having a tiny bank account (high school I think), I was taught to write a careful cursive signature -- after all, the bank would be verifying checks. Does anyone teach that these day? I doubt it. Why should they? A squiggle will do for nearly all transactions requiring a "signature".

Verifying voters through signatures is becoming a dying -- almost dead -- means of validating votes. I wonder what the California Secretary of State has in mind for updating this. There has to be a better way.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A righteous call-out

I wasn't sure this was real, but best I can discover, it is. The United Methodist Building is the only non-governmental structure on Capital Hill in DC. An earlier iteration of the sign read "I was a stranger and you ripped my child from me ... wait a second ..." according to The Hill.

I finally know the name of my kind

It turn out there's a label for how I, and a lot of other San Franciscans, go through life in our multi-lingual city. I'm a receptive multilingualist. That is, I understand a very substantial amount of Spanish and often hold conversations in which the other party speaks Spanish and I communicate in English. I'd feel better about myself if I could manage to actually speak Spanish, but I'm happy I can often get by pretty effectively, as the Spanish speakers I interact with also seem to be.

Can't say I have any of that capacity in any of the Asian and other languages spoken here, but it's not rare at all to come across Asian-language natives who understand Spanish as well as English.

If curious about how this works, read about an Australian island where nine different languages are spoken and widely understood, but no one is giving up their own tongue to talk with speakers of other languages. We're an amazing species generating amazing cultures.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

When San Franciscans take to the streets ...

When I went looking for an image appropriate to musing on the George Moscone/Harvey Milk murders that took place 40 years ago today, this photo from "Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images" grabbed my attention. It shows San Franciscans expressing their horror and grief marching down Market St. from the Castro district to City Hall.

I don't remember where I was when I learned that someone, rapidly revealed to be ex-cop and ex-Supervisor Dan White, had killed the progressive mayor and the flamboyantly gay and populist legislator. I do remember that the murders came about a week after the Jonestown atrocity -- the murder/suicide of some 400, mostly poor and black people, from the Bay Area under the orders of cult leader Jim Jones. That horror I learned about from overhearing a radio broadcast in Thriftown, the still-extant Mission Street source of winter clothing in a chilly November. The enormity of what had gone down left everyone stunned.

I don't remember whether I was a part of that doleful march after the assassinations. Both dead politicians had been symbols of hope for better days for many. Moscone represented the city's long immigrant labor tradition which had made the place a union stronghold through the 1930s and 40s. Yet he'd made common cause with the city's newer populations -- Blacks migrated from the South, immigrants, and the upstart gay community. He came out of the city's tradition of Catholic social justice activism; he intervened for the Martin de Porres Catholic Worker community when the health department wanted to shut down our anarchic feeding operation. (Nancy Pelosi still carries a whiff of that San Francisco tradition.) Milk was, of course, the gay leader who had personified resistance to a mean-spirited California ballot initiative to bar gays and lesbians from teaching and our friends among educators from even putting in a good word about us. (We won that round.)

And so, people responded to the Moscone/Milk murders by taking to streets. If I wasn't at the pictured march, I certainly was at several in days after. I know I was there for what came to be called the "White Night Riots" in May 1979 when thousands besieged City Hall after a jury failed to convict Dan White for murder. Marchers torched police cars and police smashed up a bar in the Castro that night.

Thinking back on those days, I realize how deeply taking to the streets in moments of horror is part of the culture of this city. We took to the streets when President Reagan feinted at military intervention against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. We marched night after night against George H.W. Bush's Gulf War for Kuwaiti oil sheiks. We marched for days after the cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted; San Francisco was placed under a state of emergency and curfew.

More recent marches, against Bush II's Iraq invasion for example, were usually more structured events, implicitly if not directly permitted by city leaders. The great immigrants marches of 2006 also had that quality, but involved new participants. The culture of taking to the streets without permission to cry out at injustice and acquiescence in horrors still lives here, under a more regulated surface. In recent years, bits of it have shown up in response to killings by the SFPD.

And most notably, San Franciscans, mostly young, mostly not veterans of those previous outpourings, marched night after night in response to Donald Trump's election in 2016.

So what? People march a lot. Big deal. But think about it: all these eruptions presaged political organizing which has changed society (queers are just well-integrated 'Murricans these days), the empire can no longer conduct wars that lead to US casualties, Latinx power is growing -- and agonized people managed to goose the Democratic Party into a force which just yielded a blue wave. Let's keep marching and keep organizing San Francisco. That's how to remember George and Harvey.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Migration is what people do when just slogging on becomes intolerable

U.S. juries have agreed our authorities can shoot people through the Mexican border.

In our outrage about Trump's Border Patrol teargassing rowdy asylum seekers near San Diego, this should not get lost:

PHOENIX -- An Arizona jury [last week] acquitted a U.S. Border Patrol agent of manslaughter in the shooting of a Mexican teen through a border fence, sparking a protest in downtown Tucson following the second loss for federal prosecutors in the second trial over the 2012 killing. Jurors in Tucson found Lonnie Swartz not guilty of involuntary manslaughter but didn't come to a decision on voluntary manslaughter.

The verdict comes months after Swartz was acquitted of second-degree murder by another jury that had deadlocked on manslaughter charges, allowing prosecutors to pursue the case again.

Border Patrol agents are rarely criminally charged for using force. But the killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez sparked outrage on both sides of the border and came at a time when the agency was increasingly scrutinized for its use of force.

NBC news

So long as intolerable conditions persist in Central America, people will keep on coming. Any of us would if our loved ones were being murdered and simply living was no longer possible. The tiny chance that we might luck into asylum would look better than sticking around to be slaughtered. Without more law and more justice in Central America, the flow of desperate people isn't going to stop.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Another residue of World War One

This Sunday is a hinge in the Christian calendar, the end of the long season of "ordinary time," all those Sundays "after Pentecost" that stretch on through summer and fall (in the northern hemisphere.) The Sunday that precedes the new year and season of Advent is labeled "Christ the King."

I don't remember encountering Christ the King Sunday in the very Protestant Episcopal American-nationalist congregation I was raised in during the 1950s. Maybe our clerics didn't truck with no monarchs, proud that their insurrectionist forebears had dispensed with the English king -- this despite a strong undercurrent of Anglophilia. Or perhaps they thought the feast was just a Roman Catholic innovation. In the latter, they were right.

Christ the King Sunday entered the calendar as a papal response to the horrors of World War I in Europe and its aftermath. Chris Gehrz explains.

... the 20th century notion of dedicating one Sunday each autumn to Christ the King emerged out of the Catholic Church’s ongoing wrestling with the worst war to that point in European history.

... One month into that war, Benedict XV began his papacy. Protestant leaders in England and Germany didn’t shy away from the language of holy war, but the new pope — spiritual leader of millions on both sides — was horrified ...

That pope's successor, Pius XI, remained horrified, perhaps more attuned than leaders of Northern Europe to the reality that in Central Europe the carnage didn't end.

In the midst of a “dense fog of mutual hatreds and grievances,” Pius declared the aim of his papacy to be “the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Christ by peace in Christ.” In the 1925 encyclical Quas Primas, he reiterated that “as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ…”

Hence the need for “a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ.”

Emphasizing the royal attributes of Jesus was a telling choice for the decade after WWI. When better to reflect on a kingdom “that shall never be destroyed, and shall stand for ever” (Dan 2:44) than in the aftermath of a war that toppled four royal dynasties? But by the same token, placing special emphasis on the kingship of Jesus also suggested the nervousness of a religious hierarchy that had long relied on earthly kings to hold back forces of secularization.

... Pius thought that the new feast would “provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism…” Most notably, the world war sparked a revolution in Russia that replaced a devoutly Christian monarch with the “Red nightmare” of the “atheistic and bolshevistic Communism” that Pius later warned “aims at upsetting the social order and at undermining the very foundations of Christian civilization.” But 1917 also saw Mexico adopt a new constitution containing several articles directly aimed at limiting the influence of the Catholic Church. (Seven years earlier, the overthrow of Portugal’s monarchy had ushered in a similar wave of anticlerical reforms.)

Instituting Christ the King Sunday didn't discernibly turn back the tide of popular repudiation of ancient hierarchies. But putting it in the Church calendar does offer sophisticated preachers a chance to reflect on the central Christian paradox of a God who willingly gives up dominion in order to participate in the suffering of God's creation -- as our new priest-in-charge at Saint John the Evangelist ably did this morning.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Dems in disarray for today ...

Another day, another article reporting that that the newcomers in the Dem Congressional caucus are making some other pols nervous.

The great threat? These newbies might break a terrible taboo.

Nothing, though, puts the unity of the Democratic caucus at risk as much as a recent pledge from Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib to primary other members of Congress. ...

This -- trying forcefully to bring colleagues into line with progressive policies -- is what President Obama at the height of his powers in 2008 refused to do. Sailing into office with a popular movement at his back (anyone remember Organizing For Obama?) the new president refused to turn activists loose on members of his own party who stood in the way of progressive policies on health care, climate change, and labor rights.

Obama began his term forgetting that his power derived from aroused people. He flunked the politics of his situation. Many bad things followed, including demobilized people, the 2010 wipe out in state elections, and collapse of local Democratic Party organizations.

Can contemporary Democratic leaders learn to tolerate creative intra-party friction that keeps people engaged? The lesson of the moment is that when more people get mobilized, more of them then vote. When more people vote, progressive advocates win. I fear efforts to reimpose a stable "politics as usual," more than I fear continued ferment. Insurrectionists better not be assholes, but so far, that's not what is happening.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Do something: this is about paying our blessings forward

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Over this weekend of Thanksgiving -- our holiday of gratitude for good fortune -- I received urgent appeals from three organizations that I think we can take as representing offspring of the Abrahamic family tree (though I'm sure each would insist on the non-sectarian character of their public services.) CAIR-Bay Area, Jewish Community and Family Services-East Bay, and Faith in Action-Bay Area weren't asking for money (though I am sure any and all of them can use a little cash.)

They were asking me to utilize the privilege and obligation of citizenship to oppose a new policy of further cruelty toward immigrants. Our white nationalist rulers cannot implement their latest moral outrage without soliciting public comments. We are urged to make those comments, even if we doubt they'll do any good.

FiF-BA explained succinctly what the administration is up to:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently issued a proposed rule changing the definition of what it means to be a “public charge.” Under the proposed rewrite of “public charge,” DHS could deny a green card or even initiate deportation for anyone “who is likely at any time to use or receive one or more public benefits.”  This proposal would otherize green card applicants and their dependents. It doesn’t just include a laundry list of new possible benefits received (from Medicaid, SNAP, nutrition assistance, and Housing benefits) but even includes benefits applied for. 

An expanded unnecessary change in the public charge definition means that many immigrant families will be forced to choose between using essential public assistance needed to keep their family healthy, or the opportunity to receive or maintain their legal immigration status.  Many immigrants are already unenrolling from vitally needed services out of fear of this proposed rule.  This change in public charge could affect 20 million people.

Get it? This definition change is something the administration wants to do to immiserate and impoverish people who did "play by the rules" and are within the process for establishing legal residency in this country. This isn't about scoff laws -- it is about criminalizing daily life for all immigrants.

CAIR-BA draws out the implications of what our rulers want to do:

This policy places an undue burden on the working-class immigrants that form the backbone of our economy and puts the wealthy at the front of the line. In doing so, it constitutes a complete abandonment of the "American Dream," the fundamental premise of which holds that the United States is a place for those seeking a better life, not just those already living one.

This Muslim community responding to ongoing attacks has a clearer grasp of the aspirations that are the only excuse for this country than so many of us who might think of ourselves as "real Americans.

All these agencies provide links to sites that allow citizens to write short comments expressing their horror at this attempt to increase the insecurity of the some of the most stressed people among us. I found this site the most accessible. JCFS-EB offered sensible advice about writing your comment:

Your comment does not have to be technical; it can simply express your own concern for the health and well-being of our country’s immigrants.

Here's what I wrote:

The proposed regulation expanding the definition of "public charge" creates barriers for legal residents and their citizen children who are seeking to better themselves and this country. Legal immigrants pay taxes; they should not be excluded from benefits like healthy food and secure housing. This move screams of racial bigotry; the future of this country depends on our moving away from racial entitlements and toward broad equality of opportunity.

Your comment doesn't have to be brilliant. We just all need to weigh in. This isn't sexy like going off to campaign for Democrats in Congress (yeah team!) but these struggles must be part of what #resistance looks like over the next two years.

Comments are due by December 10, but do it today.

Sign encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday cat blogging

Through smoke and a dirty window, this animal surveys his domain.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Turkey Day

Let's all enjoy a short breathing space before we return to the fight. And be grateful for new learnings and whatever successes we can claim.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Madame Speaker

I've been surprised by how pleased I've felt watching my Congresswoman swat away the ambitious Lilliputians who want to displace her.

Understand, I'm not particularly a Pelosi fan. I've been known to write downright nasty posts about the once and future Speaker. My city -- her constituents -- has often yearned for policies far to the left of what she stomachs.

And Democrats in Congress do need a new and different generation of leaders. As soon as possible.

But grassroots activists didn't just set aside our many differing wishes and needs to work our butts off to win a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives so that a few ambitious guys (mostly white and "moderate" at that) can fulfill their leadership fantasies. A lot of us feel we're fighting for our lives here in GOPer-USA, forced to work though the medium of other people's political ambitions to win a small measure of protection from engulfing hate. We sent Democrats to Congress do a vital job for us. They should stop acting like a high school drama queens quarreling over who should be student body president.

Pelosi is good at the job of leading Dems in Congress. That (plus her gender) is why the Republicans hate her. She should be willing to plan transition to new leaders. But in this moment, I am enjoying watching her remind her detractors who is the boss.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Explanation of the Brexit process through the medium of cake

LEAVER: I want an omelette.
REMAINER: Right. It’s just we haven’t got any eggs.
LEAVER: Yes, we have. There they are. [HE POINTS AT A CAKE]
REMAINER: They’re in the cake.
LEAVER: Yes, get them out of the cake, please.
REMAINER: But we voted in 1974 to put them into a cake.
LEAVER: Yes, but that cake has got icing on it. Nobody said there was going to be icing on it.
REMAINER: Icing is good.
LEAVER: And there are raisins in it. I don’t like raisins. Nobody mentioned raisins. I demand another vote.

LEAVER: Right, where’s my omelette?
REMAINER: I told you, the eggs are in the cake.
LEAVER: Well, get them out.

EU: It’s our cake.

JEREMY CORBYN: Yes, get them out now.
REMAINER: I have absolutely no idea how to get them out. Don’t you know how to get them out?
LEAVER: Yes! You just get them out and then you make an omelette.
REMAINER: But how?! Didn’t you give this any thought?
LEAVER: Saboteur! You’re talking eggs down. We could make omelettes before the eggs went into the cake, so there’s no reason why we can’t make them now.

THERESA MAY: It’s OK, I can do it.
THERESA MAY: There was a vote to remove the eggs from the cake, and so the eggs will be removed from the cake.
REMAINER: Yeah, but…
LEAVER: Hang on, if we take the eggs out of the cake, does that mean we don’t have any cake? I didn’t say I didn’t want the cake, just the bits I don’t like.

EU: It’s our cake.

REMAINER: But you can’t take the eggs out of the cake and then still have a cake.
LEAVER: You can. I saw the latest Bake Off and you can definitely make cakes without eggs in them. It’s just that they’re horrible.
REMAINER: Fine. Take the eggs out. See what happens.
LEAVER: It’s not my responsibility to take the eggs out. Get on with it.
REMAINER: Why should I have to come up with some long-winded incredibly difficult chemical process to extract eggs that have bonded at the molecular level to the cake, while somehow still having the cake?
LEAVER: You lost, get over it.

THERESA MAY: By the way, I’ve started the clock on this.
REMAINER: So I assume you have a plan?
THERESA MAY: Actually, back in a bit. Just having another election.

REMAINER: Jeremy, are you going to sort this out?
JEREMY CORBYN: Yes. No. Maybe.

EU: It’s our cake.

LEAVER: Where’s my omelette? I voted for an omelette.
REMAINER: This is ridiculous. This is never going to work. We should have another vote, or at least stop what we’re doing until we know how to get the eggs out of the cake while keeping the bits of the cake that we all like.


REMAINER: Fine, I’m moving to France. The cakes are nicer there.
LEAVER: You can’t. We’ve taken your freedom of movement.

Friends were passing this around on Facebook, attributing it to Drew Collier. I liked it. I assume Mr. Collier launched it into the world to be passed around.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Lessons from Reno: thoughts on "rides to the polls"

When I've been a campaign organizer, I've always been a "rides to the polls" skeptic. Campaigns routinely offer to help supporters with transportation on Election Day. Campaign volunteers love to offer to drive voters who need a ride; perhaps this sounds easier and more satisfying than doing what campaigns want everyone to do: talk with mostly unwilling citizens. But in real life, very few voters avail themselves of the offer. Ride-offering volunteers sit around on standby. Yet conventional campaign wisdom says you must make provision for rides.

Working on the UniteHERE campaign in Reno has given me a lens for rethinking "rides." Nevada offers exceptional opportunities for this rethinking because it uses 14 days of in-person, in-neighborhood early voting before the usual election day on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The voting locations are truly local in malls and grocery stores as well as county buildings. For practical purposes fifteen days are Election Day -- this year nearly 57 percent of all votes in Nevada were cast in the early voting period.

In this context "rides to the polls"takes on a different meaning than under more limited voting schedules. It means immediate voting. During the early vote period canvassers can offer anyone they can convince to vote for their candidate an instant chance to do the deed. This is particularly attractive to infrequent and first-time voters who are hesitant about how to do it, who need to have the process made to feel less daunting. "Rides to the polls" becomes not about overcoming disabilities of body or transport, but more about breaking through unease about interacting with government and dispelling apathy. Reno UniteHERE canvassers competed with each other and themselves at facilitating early voter "rides." This helped build momentum around voting in neighborhoods where voting is not currently a natural seeming part of life.

Obviously the state of Nevada helps make this campaign tactic work by offering easy in-person voting -- and giving out the certificates to "first time" voters which the young man displays above.

But it seems worth thinking through how emphasis on facilitating immediate voting by unlikely voters might help campaigns to increase turnout, especially turnout among low-income working people and communities of color. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a clear summary of the early voting rules in the thirty-seven jurisdictions that allow for in-person early voting. New Mexico probably is the state most like Nevada in providing neighborhood early voting -- and I observed this as long lines outside grocery stores in Albuquerque in 2004. I don't know whether New Mexico campaigns use "rides" as incentive to immediate voting as we did Reno.

Many jurisdictions allow in-person voting outside of official offices at the discretion of county authorities. How many such locations, open for how long, on which days can be highly contested; see also North Carolina. In general. more and longer are better for turnout among infrequent voters (as the GOP fears).

A hybrid tactic that offers some of the immediacy of early "rides to the polls" are rallies and marches to early voting sites. Sometimes that means marches from churches, so-called "souls to the polls." The Houston affiliate of the Women's March organized an ambition slate of "mini-marches" to local voting places during this past election. I remember organizers of homeless voters putting on such a march in San Francisco one year -- since I try to be elsewhere during elections, I don't know whether that's a repeated, regular event.

It seems worth observing that while universal voting by mail, which is the practice in Washington state, Oregon, and Colorado, undoubtedly increases relative turnout (especially when combined with near universal voter registration), it diffuses the immediacy of the voting experience. Mail balloting provides convenience, but what does it do to the experience of democratic participation? Who uses snail mail for anything anymore? Certainly not young people or those who live in precarious circumstances. I suspect that progressives may come to regret our current enthusiasm for mail voting; it makes voting more like individual consumer choice on Amazon and less like a common civic experience. I could see us in a few years campaigning for increased, staffed, ballot drop off points to restore some immediacy to the experience of voting.

Meanwhile -- I'm now an advocate of "rides to the polls" early and often; I've seen it work in communities that don't have the voting habit. We need those communities participating if democracy (small "d") is to have a chance to make this a better country.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Reality check: this is what climate action looks like

We think the advent of fleets of driverless cars in US cities would be radical. Spian's got a much more far reaching idea. Here's what a democratic socialist government is proposing:

Spanish government planning to ban sale of gasoline, diesel cars from 2040
... Transportation in Spain – and in most of the European Union – is the straggler when it comes to the fight against climate change. While the use of renewable energy continues to grow in the power sector – with a realistic target of 100% of electricity coming from clean sources in the future – road transportation is not progressing at the same speed in the fight against climate change.

Just over a quarter of all greenhouse gases emitted in Spain are from the transportation sector, and most of those come from the roads. Forecasts from the government suggest that if measures are not taken, these emissions will grow 15% from here to 2030.

In the draft text presented on Tuesday, the 2040 ban on “passenger and light commercial vehicles with direct emissions of carbon dioxide” would also mean an end to the sale of hybrids, which also burn gasoline or diesel. This kind of veto has already been announced in other EU countries, such as the United Kingdom and France, which have also set a target date of 2040, and Denmark, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, which have set a date of 2030.

El Pais, 11/13/18

The new plan would also ban fracking and end licenses for exploiting carbon fuels (oil and coal) by 2040. The aim is to expand current wind and solar energy production to provide 100 percent of the country's electricity needs by 2050.

Spain's government is a cobbled together coalition in which socialists are dependent on anti-austerity and left populist parties. It's almost certainly fragile. But it seems noteworthy that there is enough social consensus that climate change is a vital emergency that the governing party believes a serious de-carbonization plan can be negotiated.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Will Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto remember her roots?

UniteHERE president D. Taylor exhorts campaign workers.
Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto was named head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) this past week. The job entails leading the charge to win enough Senate seats in 2020 to flip the upper chamber.

According to the Nevada Independent, the freshman Senator (elected in 2016) was eager to take the job.
Cortez Masto said that she was courted to take over the DSCC, but also showed interest in taking the role. Typically the Senate Democratic leader has to beg and plead for a member to take the position because of the intense travel and fundraising duties it entails.

... Cortez Masto is the first Latina elected to the Senate and is only the second woman to be DSCC chair.
She's an interesting choice. In the past when Democrats were in the minority, they tended to choose Senators who were well-connected fundraisers: from 2003 through 2011, the post was occupied by Jon Corzine (D-NJ, Goldman Sachs), Chuck Schumer (D-NY, Wall Street) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ, personal graft). Like any sitting Senator, Cortez Masto has raised millions of political dollars, but according to the campaign finance watchdog Open Secrets, her big donors are Emily's List, the League of Conservation Voters, and J Street. These are all fine Democratic-leaning organizations, but not where the big bucks are located.

Cortez Masto has another attribute unmentioned in the news coverage: as much as any member of the Senate, she certainly knows that she owes her election to the work of the labor movement, to the Culinary Workers in Las Vegas and in Reno (UniteHERE). Democrats win in Nevada when this powerful union turns out low wage workers, many of them Latinx, who are not habitual voters. Culinary just did this again for a new Democratic Senator, Jackie Rosen, and a new Democratic Governor, Steve Sisolak. There are plenty of other worthy civil society organizing groups and a state Democratic party in Nevada, but the Silver State's elections are turned by the Culinary Workers. Because the union allocates its members' money toward these fights, it doesn't have to chase fickle donors and is largely free to follow its own model of campaigning through door to door canvassing in what is (somewhat surprisingly) one of the most urbanized of states.

So that's the background Cortez Masto brings to the DSCC. Will her experience of the power of labor and of canvassing-based campaigns affect her approach to assisting Democratic Senate campaigns? One certainly hopes so. There's a healthy potential partnership in that mix.

Full disclosure that will not be news to most of my readers: I worked for two months on the UniteHERE campaign in Reno this fall.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Morning air quality report from the Mission

At least we have someplace to shelter indoors for a bit. Areas closer to the Camp fire are much worse.

We're getting the outflow of smoke via the Sacramento River delta, now trapped in the Bay by an inversion. We need wind and rain to disperse this.

Friday cat blogging

Morty is aging, but he remains a contortionist.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Wildfires force those who can to stay indoors

This afternoon in smoke-filled San Francisco reminds me of being house-bound by a raging blizzard in Buffalo in my youth. Except there's no way you'd ever go out and play in this ...

Nearby Potrero Hill is even worse than the Mission.

Meanwhile workers at the struck Palace (Marriott) hotel trudge on the picket line through the smog. I wonder what the parents among them will do with their kids now that the SFUSD has closed the schools for tomorrow because of the terrible air quality.

Democracy gone awry; people demanding change

Brexit is straining the British political system, as it has since the referendum in June 2016. Conservative Party leader Theresa May, up against the pressure of her mandate to effect a divorce from the European Union by the end of March, has brought home a "deal" which nobody likes. This may either somehow win a majority in Parliament or possibly bring down her government. This post is not about the substance of Brexit negotiations; I wouldn't begin to suggest I grasped either the economics or the intra-Brit political implications.

But I'm certainly interested in understanding how the dis-United Kingdom came to vote narrowly to jump ship from the continent. From where I sit, this looks like a self-destructive democratic belly flop, only exceeded by our own narrow election of an incompetent, grafting, petulant narcissist to the US presidency.

And so I turned to Anthony Barnett's The Lure of Greatness. Barnett has campaigned for political reform in Britain for decades and is the founder of the important international portal Open Democracy.

Barnett sees Brexit and the Trump election as fruit of the same poisoned tree: the betrayal of trust by two intertwined national ruling elites which gave us the Iraq war on phony pretexts and a financial crisis which trashed the prosperity of middle classes while sparing the wealthy 1 percent. And so, on both sides of the Atlantic, the people

made a judgement: to roll the dice. ... [There were] two core claims [from] the Leave and Trump campaigns, used to wrap their vile deceits. One: the political system is corrupted, wrong and unacceptable. This is so in the UK and the EU as well as the USA. Two: it can be changed. Knowing the first is true, and the second could be, turned the two campaigns into movements with energy and motivation that maximised their appeal and turnout.

He goes on to point out an underlying truth which easily gets lost (and which we've just seen proved out in the midterm elections):

I am not saying that the system is only or nothing but corrupt, and fixed by money and the machine. Were that the case it would not be possible to change it – and neither Trump or Brexit could have won. It is because the US and the UK are open, crudely democratic, law-based and free, that change is possible.

He goes on to explain the vote in the United Kingdom to leave the EU as the product of the particular shape of government that country has inherited from its imperial past. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have emerged from a history of colonial status within Britain and acquired their own representative elected assemblies with "devolved" powers. London has become a fabulously wealthy international business hub, cosmopolitan and little dependent on its English hinterland. Meanwhile, the numerous English people of the English countryside who once turned the map of the planet the red representing Her Majesty's Empire have ended up with no institution of government that is theirs. Parliament in Westminster is the national governing body, not their particular site of power.

When the voters of the UK were asked if they wanted to renew their membership of the European Union, it became a vote on how the country is governed. Different forces, tangible and intangible, were at work. These included immigration, the refugee emergency, the effects of austerity, the outrageous rip-off of the financial crash, the loosening of loyalties thanks to the internet, the undemocratic nature of the EU, the implosion of social democracy. The majority response to these forces in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the second-and third-largest nations of the UK, was to seek closer relations with the EU, with more and better continental solidarity. A similar response came from London, the global city. But across England-without-London, the comeback was the opposite. This is the central fact of the referendum’s outcome.

Britain is a post-empire hybrid. ... English hostility to the European Union is based on a delusion of its influence, linked to a nihilistic sense of the futility of Westminster. Unlike all other parts of the UK and the EU, England has no government of its own.

By being committed to the British Westminster and Whitehall, the English deprive themselves of their own political self-determination. This is the irony. The real foreign threat comes from their British masters. Their attachment to [formerly imperial] Britain prevents the English from realising themselves.

Barnett has many other topics in addition to the British/English democracy deficit that I've highlighted here. He's a social democrat; a critical supporter of a Labour party he doesn't think quite exists; a proponent of recognizing that migration is simply part of historic human nature. His commentary on the Trump phenomenon is both hard to refute -- and just a hair off, like listening to the BBC report on US politics and knowing they've got the emphasis a little wrong, again.

But if you aspire at all to follow the twists and turns that Brexit will create for the our English-speaking cousins over the next few years, The Lure makes an accessible starting point. We too live in an imperial power past its prime. What can we learn from the travails of a kindred democracy further down the post-imperial adjustment path?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Are white evangelical Christians "real Americans" or off on a tangent?

Poking around in attitudinal polling data, as I am wont to do, I ran across a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) pre-midterm election poll that brought me up short. I had not realized the extent to which people who identify as white Christian evangelicals have become outliers in the U.S. religious landscape. Though they are often treated as, and consider themselves, the true representatives of "real America," most of us -- even other whites -- have distinctly different opinions on the conflicts of our time.

... With the unique exception of white evangelical Protestants, majorities of all other major religious groups have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. Majorities of black Protestants (80%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (75%), Hispanic Catholics (74%), non-Christian religious Americans (73%), white mainline Protestants (52%), and white Catholics (52%) have a negative opinion of Trump. By contrast, almost seven in ten (68%) white evangelical Protestants have a favorable view of Trump, including 28% who have a very favorable view. ...

... With the exception of white evangelical Protestants, strong majorities of every major religious group believe that Donald Trump has damaged the dignity of the presidency. More than three-quarters (77%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans and about two-thirds of white mainline Protestants (68%) and Catholics (67%) agree that President Trump has damaged the dignity of the presidency. This view is shared by less than half (47%) of white evangelical Protestants. A majority (53%) of white evangelical Protestants say that President Trump has not damaged the dignity of the presidency. ...

... With the exception of white evangelical Protestants, all other major religious groups believe that the country’s racial and ethnic realignment will be mostly positive. Majorities of Hispanic Catholics (81%), black Protestants (80%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (74%), white Catholics (51%), and white mainline Protestants (51%) believe that this change will be mostly positive, while less than half (44%) of white evangelical Protestants hold this view. A majority (54%) of white evangelical Protestants say that becoming majority-nonwhite nation in the future will be mostly negative. ...

White evangelical Christians simply are no longer normative. The rest of us have moved on.
At Religion News Service, Mark Silk disaggregates what exit polls tell us about the participation of white evangelicals in the election.

According to the exit polls, 26 percent of the electorate in last week’s midterms consisted of white evangelicals. Yet white evangelicals make up just 15.3 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to PRRI’s widely used survey data. What gives?

...As Faith and Freedom Coalition chairman Ralph Reed, who’s in the business of boosting evangelical turnout, told a National Press Club audience, “We had an astonishing level of evangelical voters cast their ballots.”

Silk opines that, when asked outside a voting location, significant numbers of white mainline Protestants and even Roman Catholics identified as "born again," making up the difference between known numbers of white evangelicals and their claimed proportion of the electorate.

This set of query answers is presumably a function of the strength of the generally held assumption that if a white person identifies as Christian, that means identifying as evangelical. So maybe the exceptional "evangelical" views PRRI names aren't so exceptional after all -- just not so denomination-linked as we might assume.

Still, it's nice to realize that even slim majorities of self-identified white US Christians aren't on the Making America White Again train.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Just look at the difference ...

Republican Congressional newbies.

Democratic Congressional newbies.

From the Twitter feed of Erica Werner.

Nevada opts for more solar energy

Amid all the good news coming out of the midterms for Democrats and left-leaning progressives more generally, the election just past was not particularly good for people trying to slow climate change by curbing our dependence on fossil fuels. David Roberts reports a rundown of failed ballot measures.

... the lesson of this year’s energy initiatives is pretty clear: When big oil wants to, it can spend unlimited amounts of money and crush efforts at direct democracy.

And it wants to. ... ballot initiatives, like US politics generally, are becoming a battle of billionaires. Big money flows in virtually unrestricted. And it is effective.

Decamping from the federal level to the states is not going to allow clean energy proponents to escape that dynamic.

Interestingly (to me), an exception to the catalogue of clean energy defeats happened in Nevada where I was working -- and I didn't know that until I read the various election post mortems.

The on-the-ground view in the streets of Reno was that there was some kind of peculiar initiative -- Question 3 -- it was about electricity regulation -- and everyone from the building trades unions to the Culinary Workers to the Sierra Club was against it. All we knew was that it was right wing casino magnate Sheldon Adelson's baby. That was plenty enough to ensure our instinctive opposition. And Question 3 did fail overwhelmingly.

But I was unaware of Question 6 which the environmental publication Grist describes in hopeful terms:

... Nevada had previously shown an appetite for increased renewable energy standards. A bill to increase energy portfolios to 40 percent renewable by 2030 failed last year thanks to a last-minute veto by Governor Brian Sandoval. Having already come so close helped galvanize pro-environmental groups, [Andy] Maggi [of the Nevada Conservation League] says. So this time supporters drew up a constitutional amendment with a slightly more ambitious standard and took it directly to the voters.

Blanca Ortiz, a native of Nevada, joined the NextGen campaign after leaving her job as a personal trainer. She says enhanced renewable energy goals are a natural fit for the state. Solar power, in particular, makes perfect sense — and a reputation for clean energy could give a fresh identity to a state most often characterized by the late-night neon of Las Vegas casinos. “People here support it because we’ve lived under the sun for so long,” she says.

But Question 6 is just one step on Nevada’s path toward ratcheting up its renewable energy standards. Thanks to state law, voters will have to approve the measure again in 2020 before it is fully enacted. But Maggi hopes it will never come to that. He’s confident the recent win will serve as a mandate for the upcoming legislative session, which could put the standards into practice earlier through policy.

The blue wave we helped catalyze should keep on giving.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Taking Banksy's advice today

The long campaign season and returning to a city filled with smoke leave me pooped. I need a day off. Back as soon as energy returns. It will; it always has.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

On Armistice Day

As we mark the 100th anniversary of what its contemporaries knew as "the Great War" (World War I), I realize that I belong to the last generation which carries a live memory of people who survived that scarcely imaginable catastrophe. In 1914, Europe seemed on a path toward increased globalization and "modern" living -- a path from which it was derailed by carnage, at least through 1945 and perhaps more accurately through 1989. Within four years, a 19th century vision of "infinite progress" had been obliterated, 20 million soldiers and civilians were dead, and long established political polities had been swept away while novel, usually unstable, entities had been created.

... the last [US?] World War I veteran died in 2012. ... if Europe’s motto after World War II was “never again,” the lesson of World War I is “it could happen again.”

Katrin Bennhold, New York Times

To honor this anniversary, I want to call attention to a previous blog post.

Somewhat improbably, I was raised near an uncle, Stevan Idjidovic (who adopted the last name "Stevens" for the benefit of his English speaking relatives) who had served as a Serbian child soldier in that war. He told his wild story in a little memoir titled Snows of Serbia. This provides an intimate portrait of hardship and accidental survival that is still gripping. Here's how war came to his ethnically Serbian village which happened to be located within what were then Austro-Hungary's borders:

We could not understand why they were burning our Serbian village; we had been loyal subjects of the Empire for generations. "They are going to kill us," repeated Cika Krana .... We were all terrified by the realization that the village was being put to the torch and the people were being shot by our own soldiers. ...

... I happened to be the only male of adult size in the group. "You, come here!" I heard the Croat sergeant speak, his gaze fixed on me. As I was about to step forward I heard Mother plead "Oh don't, please don't," as she clutched my arm. I was afraid to step forward but realized I had no alternative. I broke loose from Mother’s grip and stepped forward facing the sergeant. He was about my height with blond hair and a well-groomed mustache, his steely blue eyes fixed on me. "What are you?" he demanded sternly, meaning what nationality was I. I was on the point of telling the truth but checked myself; I kept silent, realizing he wanted me to say, "I am a Serb".

... His rage was mounting and, raising his right hand, he struck a savage blow on my left ear. "This will teach you how to obey."

With my back turned to the soldiers, I walked away slowly and apprehensively. About halfway to the street corner a rifle shot rang out behind me and I stopped dead in my tracks. A bullet whizzed by me hitting the soft road ahead of me, raising the dust. I assumed it was meant for me, but why had it missed? I wheeled around. Instantly I learned that the bullet was not intended for me. There on the road I saw my father staggering slowly in my direction, bent over in pain.

Fourteen year old Stevan then escaped to Serbian army lines by swimming across the River Sava:

... I discarded everything except my underwear and my broad brimmed hat. This done I wasted no time and plunged into the cold water. ... I had hardly swum two hundred feet from shore when I heard the crack of rifle shots close by. ...

... It is said of the dying, or of a man about to die, that they experience flashes of memories of their whole life. Nothing of the sort happened to me. On the contrary, I was thinking of how my body would be eaten by the fishes. The volleys of bullets continued to splash around me. ...

Observing the [Serbian] shore as I came closer, I shuddered at an unbelievable sight. In the calm waters of the bend the current had deposited hundreds of bodies of Serbian soldiers who had fallen at the battle of Cevrntija two weeks earlier. Frightfully bloated and closely packed, the bridge of bodies extended out from the shore some twenty feet. There was no stench that I noticed, but the bodies did create a barrier to reaching the shore. ... With my head above the surface I figured the only way out of this was to dive underneath the bodies and go for the shore. Holding my breath I submerged and propelled myself slowly toward shore till my hands were digging into mud below and my back was feeling the weight of the bodies above. Heaving up through the bodies, I frantically pushed myself toward the bank and into a thicket of willows. I felt exhausted.

While catching my breath I wondered whether I had really made it. Having disturbed the closely packed balance of the corpses, I saw a few drift loose and begin their journey down the river. I was still lying hidden with my face buried in the willow thicket, trying to regain my strength, when a commanding voice boomed down from above me. “Come on up here!”

Stevan's story both illuminates how entrenched ethnic nationalist conflicts in the Balkans might persist to this day -- and illustrates the mad, meaningless serendipity which determines who lives once war tears civilized society into pieces.
Though today marks the end of World War I in western Europe, we would do well to remember that the armistice on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour, meant less than nothing in eastern and central Europe. The hostilities unleashed by the fall of the Austrian and Russian empires escalated for years in those regions. Robert Gerwarth tells that story in The Vanquished.
And then there is that unhappy region we in the US and Europe call "the Middle East." The victorious European powers cut up the fragments of the Ottoman Empire, established "nations" defined more by lines on maps than affinities, began the process of implanting a Jewish state in land long occupied by indigenous others, and generally created a cauldron of seething enmities that persist still today. World War I never ended there either; and we scarcely noticed.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Can you see Sutro Tower through the haze?

I had hoped for a quiet recuperative weekend ... resuming Walking San Francisco while snapping photos.

But such was not to be. Smoke from the wildfires makes being outside intolerable, bringing on drippy eyes, a burning throat, and running nose.

Saturday scenery: Reno is beautiful

Amidst the intensity and anxiety of a political campaign, it was easy to forget this truth about our surroundings.

Until the last three hectic weeks, E.P. and I ran laps around this lovely human-made pond, saying good morning to the resident egrets.

The pond is a hidden gem.

On 90+F degree days in September, it was hard to credit the posted warnings to "stay off the ice." But by the end of campaign season, mornings were in the 20s. And the pond was still lovely.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Friday cat blogging

Morty's fans will be glad to know that he let us into the house on our return from Reno, though he still appears a little perturbed by the reappearance of his delinquent servants. Who are these people to think they can make me swallow my blood pressure meds?

The zombie lives

It was supposed to be dead by now. But it is worth pointing out that from last week until December 15, enrollment is open for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The Kaiser Family Foundation hosts a free calculator that lays out available options and costs for people purchasing insurance through the health insurance "marketplaces."

Meanwhile, Idaho, Utah and Nebraska voters may have elected Republican representatives, but they also voted to expand Medicaid to their needy populations under the federal program.

The notion that the government has a responsibility to provide some sort of access to health care is taking root. Democrats ran on this radical proposition in many forms in different areas -- and out-polled fear and racism by a national seven percent majority.

Next job: make healthcare availability universal and affordable.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The impact of our campaign in Reno came as a surprise ...

Washoe County Registrar of Voters, Deanna Spikula, said the midterm turnout in the Reno area far exceeded the 55 percent to 65 percent rate her department expected based on previous elections. Washoe County logged a 70.1 percent turnout rate.

“Over 70 percent turnout is just an incredible midterm for us,” she said.

Nevada Independent

Shows what can happen if campaigns devote resources to talking with people who are eligible to vote but who have not formed the voting habit. Most of those people are low income, of color, and/or young. Our folks count too.

Jacky Rosen victory speech

Still enjoying having played a part in electing this woman to the US Senate from Nevada. I seldom watch politicians speaking -- it's seldom a rewarding exercise. But my UniteHERE/Culinary Workers union teammates saw this live on election night and insisted I should watch. It's a little long; but hey, I got to cut her some slack since she'd just won a tough election.

The best parts is when she reminisces about working as a cocktail waitress at a casino to put herself through college -- and points out that same casino is the location of this victory party she is addressing.

I also liked seeing her warm relationship with the women who'd been her team.

May this Democratic Senator have a long, fruitful career sticking up for the working people of her state.

Give the video a whirl if curious.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

They stayed and they voted ...

Yesterday in Nevada, our candidates, new US Senator Jacky Rosen and new Governor Steve Sisolak, swept to victory by wide margins. A surge of determined voters in the last three hours kept the polls open long after the official closing as those in line at 7pm were allowed to cast ballots.

Mobilized by the Culinary Workers Union which represents workers in the hospitality/gaming industry, the state's diverse low wage working population made their own blue wave in Las Vegas. We did our bit through the union UniteHERE in the Reno area. It was a great day in Nevada for the people make the beds, do the laundry, and cook your breakfasts.

Time for me to get one of those breakfasts ... more on a tough election when I've had more sleep.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Thoughts for Election Day

Thoughts for a long election day.

"... I think the closest thing to defining 'American' is a false sense of safety."

Poet Javier Zamora

From an always irritating commentator who occasionally offers wisdom:

"The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, 'The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.' We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do."

Andrew Sullivan

There are historical parallels:

“In South Africa, they used to say, ‘Only a dying mule kicks the hardest.’ So that’s what you are seeing.”

the Rev. William Barber

Lest we forget:

"We should vote as if our lives depend on it. Maybe they do."

Christine Emba

Monday, November 05, 2018

On Tuesday, cast your vote for hope and against ignorance

A friend who works with the Central American human rights organization Cristosal writes about the scary "caravan" of the desperate:

In these final hours before Election Day, the Trump Administration and many Republican candidates will continue to flood the media with racist lies about people coming to our border seeking asylum. These lies make it all about danger to "us" and obscure what is going on in Central America that so many people would choose to flee their homes and undertake a dangerous journey to our increasingly hostile border.

These lies obscure the complex, historical reasons why people flee--reasons rooted in decades- and centuries-long issues of inequity and impunity now exacerbated by a multi-year drought in the region. These lies also obscure basic facts of international law and human rights recognized in the 1948 International Declaration of Human Rights: that all people have the right to migrate and to seek safety and asylum when their own government fails to protect them. 

Many even sensible people are buying into these lies, e.g., the lies that the Democrats and/or George Soros are paying people to join caravans to "destroy America." That the caravans are full of gang members and possibly even hidden ISIS or other Islamist terrorists coming here to kill us. That these are s*$#(!!% people from s*$#(!!% countries, unworthy to join us.

People are believing the lies that the caravans represent a dangerous new flood of people when in fact the numbers joining the caravans are on a par with those leaving the region monthly for the past several years, and there is great attrition along the way. The lies that a band of mostly extremely poor families, the majority women and children, with a few belongings in a plastic grocery bag or a school backpack, represent a national security risk that requires sending 15,000 U.S. troops to the border at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars that could be much better spent on non-militaristic solutions.

By making it all about danger to "us," these politically motivated lies obscure the truth that the people joining the caravans are by and larger some of the poorest, most vulnerable people in our hemisphere ...

Are we really so frightened we can't see weak and vulnerable people for who they are? Apparently the GOP hopes so ...