Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: millions of heroes cared

In the Guardian, 2018 was the "year of the autocrat." Time's Persons of the Year were "The Guardians" amid the war on truth, journalists who were killed for the offense of trying to inform us.

For me, 2018 was the year I sojourned among heroes of democracy. For two months I had the privilege of organizing a short term volunteer program for the union UniteHERE on an independent expenditure campaign to ensure Nevada elected a new Democratic Senator and Governor. Two hundred twenty-five people joined us in Reno for two days, three days, or even a week at a time. We enabled them to spent quality shifts knocking on the doors of people who might not vote unless encouraged. Meanwhile 35 or more "volunteer organizers" (VOs), mostly union members, cooks, housekeepers, and catering workers, spent two long months living in an extended stay motel and walking those neighborhoods six days a week.

Volunteers and VOs struggled to use the data collection software; they discovered the sad truth of canvassing which is that hardly anyone is ever home; they got lost and warded off dogs and property managers who expelled them as threatening invaders. (Some even became proficient at sneaking into gated communities.) And their work paid off: Jacky Rosen was elected Nevada's new Senator and Steve Sisolak is the new Governor. Jon Ralston, the dean of Silver State pundits, concludes that Nevada is a "Democratic state for the foreseeable future."

Many of the short term volunteers were older, retired, and majority white. Who else has the time and freedom to travel to work on an election?

The VOs were mostly like the majority of workers you may have encountered in service jobs: younger, of color, and tough.

Scratch the surface in conversation with any of these people and the same theme emerged: "This year, in this time, I had to feel I had done something." For the older ones, they often wanted to be able to tell grandchildren that, in what they saw as a national emergency, they had tried. A reporter from the Washington Post found the same sentiments on another campaign:
“There’s a feeling out there of people saying, ‘I can’t sit out.’ Some people join the military to serve their country. Some people knock on doors to serve their country.”
A hard reality about episodes of heroism is that they aren't usually much fun in the moment. Oh, I've read accounts of election canvassing that make it sound fun. This canvasser enjoyed himself:
You learn a little bit about people when you politick them at their door. Mostly, you learn that they’re busy. They know the tax bill was wrong. They just don’t have time to yak about it. They have Little League games to get to. ...

The Trumpers, they were all right. They were perfectly polite in telling me to get lost. Maybe it’s only when people get on TV that they act nutty.

Democracy, it turns out, is fun. ...
I think my friend Dawn Oberg's experience in Reno, where she worked as a VO, was much more representative of the canvassing experience:
I won't sugar-coat it, I f**king HATE canvassing. I knew this going in. I'm doing it because studies show that's how you win elections, and Unite Here! (union I'm working with) pretty much won Nevada for Hillary in 2016. If I had known how stuff would turn out I would have canvassed then too.

People are mean to me every day. 100% of the shit I take is from white people, and 99% of that shit is from white women, middle-aged and older. Every bitchy, mean thing I've done in my life I am now paying for. Every. Damn. Day.

People, please never be mean to a canvasser. Even a Republican one. No one does it for money or fun. They don't enjoy bothering you. You don't have to answer the damned door. We go away after two knocks, and we'd really rather talk to your dog or cat.

We're doing this because we care about the world.... [This] is literally the most important thing I can do with my time until election day.
Thousands, millions, of us cared enough to work in the election in 2018. Not all of us could enjoy a win, not by a long shot. Georgia and Florida come to mind. But we did something -- because we cared.

The thing about democracy is that it is never done.
Canvasser training in progress.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The stories we tell ourselves are better if true

Oxford professor of History of the Church Diarmaid MacCulloch has given us several wonderful volumes which I've discussed here: Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years and Silence: A Christian History.

So I enthusiastically picked up All Things Made New: The Reformation and Its Legacy. And in doing so, I probably made a mistake -- I tried to come into MacCulloch's work on the Reformation through a wrong door. This volume could use a subtitle such as "Essays in Reformation History". That is, it it made up of interesting, often suggestive discussions of particular topics in various phases of the European and British Reformation as well as a few deeper dives into related topics such as the Book of Common Prayer, the Bay Psalm Book, the King James Bible and the fictions of the politically motivated 17th century author Robert Ware. It is all great stuff, but my weakly remembered Kings and Queens rhymes didn't provide enough background to enable me to make as much of it as I might have.

However, I did appreciate some of MacCulloch's observations on historiography, the study of how historians "do" history. At the core of his intellectual project has been to take back English Reformation history from 19th century Anglo-Catholics who, he argues, constructed a largely false narrative in order to "wrestle with the embarrassment that the Reformation happened at all." He's convincing, but I'd like to have more confidence in my background knowledge before commenting.

But I will share some of MacCulloch's thoughts about the study of history itself. He notes that too much conventional history is simply a picture of a

past is used to justify the present, and to explain how it was inevitable that we got to where we are today ... [this] is the historiography of a complacent Establishment in every age.

He aims to do more; he believes (and I share this) that truthful history serves a vital social function:

These essays reflect my belief that the proper study of history has a purpose, indeed (to be portentous), a moral purpose: it forms a powerful barrier against societies and institutions collectively going insane as a result of telling themselves badly skewed stories about the past.

I guess I'll have to find time to read MacCulloch's enormous volume on the Reformation to apprehend more of what he is arguing here.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

In this city, Central America is not far away

In San Francisco's Mission District, many nights a small crowd of Nicaraguans bears witness to violence and struggle in their country of origin.

Confused about what's happening in that little Central American country which has at times felt so close and so dear for so many here? You might download "Nicaragua and the Battle over Memory and History" from historian Myrna Santiago. She places the 2018 uprising against the Ortega-Murillo government in the Nicaraguan historical context:

... What is clear, however, is that this opposition movement is homegrown, massive, and fully precedented in Nicaraguan history. Where it will go is difficult to predict right at the moment, but no Nicaraguan, from the right or the left, and much less those who would wrestle the history and meaning of Sandinismo from Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, are about to surrender.

In light of that reality, what Americans ought to do is to follow the example the Nicaraguan people are setting for us and recover another piece of history: the Hands-off Nicaragua movement, whose proud membership included Mark Twain. Or, if you like, the solidarity with the people of Nicaragua movement because it should be, as it will be, the Nicaraguans who decide what to do about their government.

And so, Nicaraguans in this city gather and dance in the transit plaza.

Friday, December 28, 2018

They shall not grow old

There didn't seem much point in urging readers to see this extraordinary film (which we saw yesterday) as it was only being offered for two days in limited venues. But it's wild success in sold out theaters means you might have a chance to catch it. Do.

Director/film artist Peter Jackson has taken contemporary World War I footage provided by the British Imperial War Museums and brought it to life. This means not just colorizing and smoothing -- it means maniacal attention to authentic details of life and death among the British Tommys in the trenches.

As Jackson would have wished, I am haunted by the sight of a battalion of young men huddled in a ditch with fixed bayonets, waiting -- expectantly, anxiously, eagerly, fearfully -- for the order to go "over the top" -- where most probably met ugly, quick and meaningless death under impassable machine gun fire. This was their war.

There were other peoples' wars. The Russian, Central European, Balkan, and Ottoman wars were probably worse, more cruel and brutal, and did not end so cleanly with the Armistice of 11 November 1918, continuing for years. And there was the war as the U.S. experienced it: despite 53,000 deaths among U.S. soldiers, neither commanding General George Pershing nor President Woodrow Wilson welcomed the end of hostilities. They had hoped for further combat to underline the superiority of U.S. wealth and power once we joined the battle in October 1917.

Jackson urges viewers to seek out members of their family who remember an older generation which lived the war. We've got only a short window left to hear those stories.

Friday cat blogging

It's a pretty good life being Morty.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Found city messages

This is a town where proprietors of small stores post upbeat notes in their display windows. She's on point I think.

We try to care of all of us.

Cartoonists post fantasies on light posts.

Tech wealth and Manhattanization haven't squelched rebellious San Francisco entirely ... to be continued.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Data points to ponder

The Pew Research Center has published what it calls "18 Striking Findings from 2018". A few upended or amplified things I knew in interesting ways.
  • "... unauthorized immigrants are increasingly likely to be long-term U.S. residents: Two-thirds of adult immigrants without legal status have lived in the country for more than 10 years." These people that the Trump regime is making war on have been part of our communities for decades. The panic about them is just bonkers.
  • "Non-U.S. countries resettled more than twice as many refugees as the U.S. in 2017, marking the first time since the adoption of the 1980 U.S. Refugee Act that America’s total fell below the combined total from the rest of the world." In a world awash in people driven from their homes, we're doing less and less of our part.
  • "Most people around the globe say China plays a more important role in the world today than it did a decade ago – but most also say it’s better for the U.S. to lead the way." Does this express familiarity with US empire or does Chinese hegemony arouse realistic fears?
  • "Almost seven-in-ten Americans (68%) feel worn out by the amount of news there is these days. While members of both parties say this, Republicans are feeling it more..." I'd have thought this would go the other way.
  • "Income inequality in the U.S. is greatest among Asians. Asians near the top of the income ladder earned 10.7 times as much as Asians near the bottom in 2016, a ratio that has nearly doubled since 1970. Asians have displaced blacks as the most economically divided racial or ethnic group in the U.S." These are the people I prefer to call "people of various Asian origins" -- Asia is big place. And there are big divides among them.
  • "Most Americans (59%) say climate change is affecting their local community at least some, especially those who live near a coast. Two-thirds of those who live within 25 miles of a coastline (67%) say this, compared with 59% of those who live 25 to 299 miles from a coast and half of those who live 300 miles or more from a coast." Are rising sea levels felt as an immediate threat? Or is there some other reason that coastal proximity makes us aware of climate change? I live by a coast, but the most immediate impact I've felt here has been from drifting inland smoke from our massive fires.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Throwback Christmas

High on Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was wet and freezing, so as soon as we'd captured the image, we jumped back into tents and sleeping bags.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas eve

A season's greeting purloined from the Des Moines Catholic Worker, the current locus of the more insurgent anarchist branch of that good movement. It's just too appropriate to forego here in the city of Saint Francis where numbers of people living on the streets remind me of what I once thought were unique horrors on the Bowery in New York City in the 1970s. Can we build more inns in the New Year?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

International realism in service of moral imagination

“It’s historical fact that great nations and empires all have a beginning and an end,” said James Jones, a retired U.S. general, former national security adviser to President Barack Obama and outgoing chairman of the Atlantic Council, speaking Friday in Washington at a forum hosted by his think tank. “There’s a naive belief in our country that there’s some sort of destiny, that the primacy of the United States is ensured for some reason forever. I don’t think that’s the case.”

Washington Post, December 17, 2018

General Jones speaks aloud what what once a heresy but is becoming a commonplace: the United States isn't going to be the global hegemon, the "top nation," forever.

When Barack Obama was in the White House, I always harbored a suspicion that we had a president sophisticated enough to understand that the responsibility of any person leading this country was to wean us off the drug of empire as gracefully as possible. Over time Obama seemed to accept that he wouldn't be allowed to do that job. The entire apparatus of elite power --governmental, military, media, and corporate -- sustained the inertia of empire. There were visible deflection points: Obama's failure to close Guantanamo, his panicked response to the underwear bomber (remember that one?), his reluctant campaign against Gaddafi in Libya. It remained easier, safer, to give in to the momentum keeping the US population scared stupid rather than to teach us that our world hegemonic moment (roughly 1918-2001) was slipping away. The country needed a new understanding of its role in the world, but if Obama understood that, he never dared tried to sell it. During his terms, we lost a chance to get there without feeling nearly the pain the victims of our empire have experienced at our hands. Doubt that? Read about what we're leaving in Iraq after more than a decade of unnecessary dumb war.

We now have a president who has no discernible interest in or capacity to perform any task unrelated to his own profit and glory. This week we've seen him order a pullback from Syria and Afghanistan, outcomes to be welcomed. But he certainly isn't thinking through consequences or implications.

But just because under the Trump regime, coherent US direction is AWOL, the pushing and pulling of rival powers isn't over. Apart from and alongside climate change, the underlying theme of current world events is still the question what happens after US empire wanes or is pushed aside, most likely by an insurgent China. (Russia is making information war on our society, but John McCain had that one right: with an economy smaller than Italy's, that benighted nation is merely "a gas station run by a mafia that is masquerading as a country.")

Kori Schake's Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony is her account of what English speakers probably think of as the last time one world empire was superseded by another. It is an historical book, but not really a work of history. Rather, she cherrypicks a series of episodes to advance a theory of international relations about such transitions. I wouldn't read it looking for narrative of what happened, but I greatly appreciated the insights which her particular slant offered on incidents in the US past.

Some examples:
  • That remarkable exercise in early American national hubris, the Monroe Doctrine, which warned off old Europe from the trans-Atlantic continents

    showcased what America would become as a powerful state. It would assert the universality of its values and advocate the adoption of its domestic political arrangements. Monroe’s declaration, then, can be seen as a regional claim to principles that would become universal as American power itself became universal.

  • She makes the case that the constraints that kept British elites from following their instinctive inclination to ally with the Confederacy during the Civil War were in part a consequence of English speaking emigration to the upstart America.

    Aligning Britain with the Confederacy risked aggravating two worrisome issues for the British government domestically: disaffection among urban workers still without political representation in Britain, and the deepening hostility of British immigrants in America. On both these counts, the United States was uniquely able to reach into Britain’s domestic debate, and during the Civil War it actively did so. ... Acting against the Union required weighing foreign policy advantage against risk of domestic damage, a calculation that America—because of its more participatory form of government—was uniquely able to impose. ... English, Welsh, and Scottish immigrants were staunch Union backers, like their German counterparts. All of these communities might become conveyor belts of insurrection back to home countries—if the United States were able to “weaponize” them.

    ... Debates over whether to become involved in the American Civil War show the first glint that the composition of another nation’s people had the ability to affect Britain’s governance of its own. The predominance of bloodline in determining nationality for other countries of the international order gave the United States a unique advantage, one that was coming to salience in building and sustaining American power as a dominant force in the international order. ... America’s values served to constrain the choices of its international adversaries by using the aspirations of their own citizens against them.

    I can't help thinking that our unusual historic practice of bringing immigrants on board the good ship USA as full citizens might still be a source of strength in our dealings with their countries of origin. I suspect China considers anyone of Chinese background still Chinese (and solely Chinese) while we still have (despite Trump) considerable capacity to absorb people from other places as genuine citizens of this contradictory nation. And that goes from people arriving here from places as different as Somalia, Guatemala, or Estonia. In this we remain an oddity among a world of inward focused nations.
  • Schake argues that American white settlers' long war to dispossess and often exterminate the continent's native inhabitants set the template for US militarism and empire. She is unblinking in calling out the ugliness of 19th century white America's drive for territory and dominance.

    ... from the French and Indian War in 1754, what would become the U.S. Army was fighting Indians, and Americans were consumed with questions of territorial security from Indian threats.

    ... U.S. Indian policy was directly a function of its democracy; America was not only a government that was illiberal in the nineteenth century but Americans were an illiberal people. The West became American only with the decimation of Indian ways of life. ... For Europeans, the purpose of empire was to harness indigenous inhabitants for the economic gain and political control of an external power. What is exceptional about the closing of the American West is that the policy was not merely conquest of indigenous inhabitants but their extermination or deportation to free the land up for settlement by immigrant Americans. ...

    ... depredations against Indians never received the attention in their time that slavery has in the American imagination. African slaves were held in physical bondage, forced to labor under close supervision, beaten and killed for underperforming, and sold as property irrespective of the bonds of matrimony and parentage; their suffering is unique in the American experience and much to be lamented. But Native Americans, too, suffered horrifically at the hands of both the American government and American citizens, and the taking of their lives, livelihood, and freedom nearly as completely did not at the time—and does not in our time—receive the attention those sins deserve. ...

    ... An accurate portrait of America rising needs to come to terms not only with what was gained by American settlement of the West but also with what was lost. Gained was a country of continental expanse, social and economic mobility, breathtaking tolerance for turbulence and risk, wealth creation on a scale not previously imagined, an abiding belief in the necessity and righteousness of armed force, ennoblement of the individual crafting his or her own fate in a harsh wilderness, urbanization of the industrial revolution balanced by rural landowners, and the genius of the founders’ political structures accommodating both in the respective houses of Congress.

    What was lost—if indeed, it was ever truly possessed by immigrants in America—was the upholding of the political creed that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These truths were not self-evident to many Americans that flooded into the West in the second half of the nineteenth century. ...

I'm not ready to take on whole this author's contention that a shared language and coincidental concurrent development of government structures labelling themselves "democracies" explains the transition from a world dominated by Britannia to American Empire from the early 20th century forward. But Schake's thesis offers a lot to think about -- it is history for moral and political imagination.

And Schake's assessment of the new transition which we may be living provides food for thought and much to worry about:

... a dominant China is likely to recast the rules in ways that extrapolate to the international order its domestic political ideology, just as America did. Hegemony with Chinese characteristics would be a very different international order from the one America has fostered in its hegemony. It would encourage and support other authoritarian governments politically, financially, and socially. ... China lacks an ideology likely to appeal to America in the seductive way America’s ideology appealed within Britain and beyond. Without such an ideology, any hegemonic transition will require imposition by force.

In closing I just want to mention that living through this transition presents a tremendous intellectual challenge to American leftists and peace movements. For a several generations, we've had it intellectually easy so long as US empire was the planet's only big dog. We knew who to blame. A multipolar world requires more demanding discernment. There are other challengers to human freedom and thriving in addition to the United States -- think millions of Uighurs in Chinese concentration camps, think of Putin's mafioso state bombing Syrian cities into rubble to prop up a pet dictator. American leftists and peace movements must stand against our empire, yet recognize that other empires are just as vile in their ways. What values do we hold that are higher than empire? Do we really care about human freedom and democracy everywhere? This has never been simple and is becoming only less so.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Saturday scenery: a San Francisco holiday

Our winter holiday themes are much influenced by The Nutcracker ballet.

Slapping a bow on a facade is about as traditional as we get.

We are glad that Santa is on the way with presents.

Sometimes Santa has to work hard to climb in.

It doesn't snow here, but snowmen we have with us ...

Also occasional sprightly elves.

All encountered while Walking San Francisco in recent weeks.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Friday cat blogging

Does Morty want a hat? Neither of us saw how he achieved this. He seemed happily settled with this head covering.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Just pawns on a chessboard

We knew he'd be at his most dangerous when his ramparts of lies and corruption began to collapse. Perhaps he would start a war?

Nope, he moves to take our troops out of one and confounds his audience on all sides.

What's a war here or there? We have plenty of wars to spare around the world.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The nation's first majority female legislature is seated in Nevada

After two months campaigning in Nevada lst fall, I find myself still following the Silver State's politics.

And just this week, this fascinating land of cowboys (many more aspirational than authentic), hustlers, and poker dealers accomplished something that no other state has achieved.

The Nevada Independent has the story:

County commissioners on Tuesday appointed Rochelle Nguyen to replace former Assemblyman Chris Brooks, appointed to the state Senate last month, and Culinary Union grievance specialist Beatrice Angela Duran to replace Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, who resigned earlier this month and will run for a Las Vegas City Council seat.

With the appointments, female lawmakers will take 23 of 42 seats in the state Assembly and nine of 21 spots in the state Senate, good for 32 out of the 63 seats in the Legislature.

Nationwide, women hold about 25 percent of state legislative seats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ most recent data. The only previous time women held a majority in a state legislative chamber was New Hampshire’s state Senate between 2009 and 2010. Guam also saw a majority female Legislature elected in 2018.

Will a majority female legislature be a better legislature? I have no idea. Some women pols are every bit as rapacious as some men pols. But it probably will be different. Interesting.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

From Nicaragua, keeping on in the midst of troubles

Whatever else is happening in their nation, rural Nicaraguans still need sources of clean water and toilets -- and will build them if we help. El Porvenir has been doing this work of over 25 years and persists still.

The rest of this post is a letter from Rob Bell, El Porvenir executive director, describing how the work goes on. Emphasis mine.

Nicaragua continues to have some uncertainty, and Nicaraguans are nervous about the future. Experts predict that the economy will continue to contract in 2019. However, in spite of the socio-political situation, El Porvenir continues to work on water, sanitation, hygiene education, and watershed restoration projects. We can continue our work because of the good relationships we’ve built with community members over the last 28 years.

We are coordinating efforts with Nicaraguan government institutions and have partnerships with local governments: the Waslala Mayor’s Office just made a significant contribution to support projects there. El Porvenir is always a neutral party and avoids politics.

We are working with RASNIC, the Nicaraguan Water and Sanitation Network; currently we are helping to coordinate the NicaraguaSAN Forum, a conference focused on sanitation solutions.

Some of the areas where we work present more challenges than others. San Lorenzo has seen more emigration to places like Costa Rica; this makes it harder for families to contribute financially and with labor to projects.

We are working with the National Police, letting them know where we’ll be and when we’ll be giving workshops, chats, and trainings. Attendance at these events has dropped because people are nervous about being seen in groups that could be perceived as political. We let the police know about our activities for the security of attendees and for our staff.

We work to improve the health of rural Nicaraguans through clean water projects and remain committed to continue working on water, sanitation, hygiene education, and watershed restoration.

Above: Staff member Lester Gonzalez in a newly constructed and proudly decorated latrine

We need your support to continue this life-changing and life-saving work. Please make your gift today at El Porvenir.

Thank you for making our work possible. With your ongoing support, we will empower even more Nicaraguans to better their lives.

In gratitude,
Rob Bell
Executive Director

They depend on keeping our eyes off the prize

The media is agog about the "revelation" that Russia (and other intrusive actors?) successfully passed around all sorts of disinformation in various social media channels.

It's good to see some specifics nailed down I guess. I remember seeing fragments of the propaganda aimed at African Americans because I try to track Black friends on Twitter a little and visit that world, quietly. There were plenty of pitches to Blacks to just sit out the 2016 (and 2018!) election, building on the sad truth that very little freedom or dignity is won through the ballot box. But there were also plenty of pitches from Black leaders like @aliciagarza, @BreeNewsome, and @staceyabrams for folks to hold their noses and do the voting thing one more time -- because you can't throw away any tool, however weak and compromised, in the forever struggle for liberation.

If I'd been following folks in rural white communities, I'm sure I'd have seen the reverse campaign, touting Trump and the GOPers as the revenge of innocents who feel despoiled and desperate.

The Russian propaganda offensive works because it is aimed like a knife at exacerbating our existing injustices. We can be manipulated to do dumb stuff because we hurt and we feel powerless. Too much right wing consumer media and their funders -- and too many of our pols especially GOPers -- like to keep us that way: dumb and divided.

The remedy for this junk is broad collective action for liberation; when movements are true, they are hard for propaganda to throw off course, as the black sisters cited above are demonstrating.

Mean tweeter bird courtesy of Dabbled

Monday, December 17, 2018

Still trying harder ...

The crackpot court decision last Friday to abolish Obamacare probably won't survive appeal -- and it is kind of amusing to watch weathervanes like Maine Republican US Senator Susan Collins try to run away from what Republican Attorneys General have won.
TAPPER: So, millions of Americans, including everyone covered by Medicaid expansion and many with preexisting conditions, are going to lose their health insurance if this ruling is upheld.

You voted for the repeal of the individual mandate as part of the tax reform bill last December. That’s the basis of this judge’s decision. You heard President Trump call this — quote — “a great ruling for our country.”

Do you agree?

COLLINS: I don’t.

First of all, I would probably any doubt that this ruling is not going to affect people who are currently enrolled or in Obamacare policies, so — or their policies for 2019.

There is widespread support for protecting people with preexisting conditions. ...
Yes there is. That's why by the end of the 2018 election, Republican candidates were lying all over the map, promising to make sure that insurance companies couldn't deny coverage to sick people. I know it happened: our candidate's incumbent opponent was running ads promising to "protect pre-existing conditions" after voting multiple times to kill Obamacare. He was not believed, nor can Collins be believed.
Meanwhile, a virus seems to have decided to take residence in my lungs, so posting may be slow this week.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

"Imagine a country with immigration laws that actually work."

Every time I write about the horrors of Donald Trump's racist immigration policies, somebody points out that Obama and the Democrats, GW Bush and the GOPers -- really all our politicians over the last twenty years -- weren't much better. These pols usually used different language about migrants. But they didn't or couldn't fix a muddle of laws, practices and enforcement decisions that denied people that employers were glad to have working here any chance to attain a sustainable legal status. Every policy twist and turn just complicated the living situation for people who had washed up here. A substantial majority of undocumented people in the US today have been here for a decade or more, but we can't seem to figure out how to deal with the reality of these neighbors and friends.

This ugly mess can't be allowed to fester on. The broad, fractious Democratic Party coalition intends to win democratic power some day. When we do, if we are ever to move beyond the current tangle called immigration "policy," we need direction deeper and more thoughtful that just "Abolish ICE" (though thoroughly reconstituting that unaccountable posse of enforcement bullies wouldn't hurt.)

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from Washington State has made an ambitious attempt to suggest what a fair, humane, socially useful immigration policy framework might look like. I'm pulling out substantial portions of her proposal here. If we don't think ahead about where we want to go, we will never get there.

A New Moral Imagination on Immigration
It is critical that Americans understand that there currently is no orderly, functioning process for people to come to America. Under Presidents Reagan and Bush, there were superficial, temporary fixes, such as legalizations or “amnesties” for those who were undocumented at the time. But without underlying reform so that the system functions, we were bound to end up in the same place again. Most Republicans—and too many Democrats—have given in to the simplistic narratives supplied by anti-immigrant forces, throwing billions of taxpayer dollars into mass deportations, a vast labyrinth of expensive private prisons, and a border that is already one of the most secure and militarized in the world.

... Our prescription for recapturing the moral imagination of immigration must be grounded in a few central principles. We must state clearly our belief that our nation has the right to control who comes in and out at our borders, and knock down the Republican strawman that any Democrat who believes in fixing the immigration system and calls for humane policies actually believes in “open borders.” ...

An accountable, transparent, and humane plan of enforcement against both employers and employees who continue to break the law is vital, but it’s important to note that with an underlying system of laws that actually works and meets the needs of our economy, we will dramatically reduce the need for enforcement. ...

We should sing strongly the benefits of family immigration, which has been the bedrock of the US system since its founding—bringing us strivers of all kinds to fill jobs at every skill level. Family connections have also provided the essential support that immigrants need in order to integrate and become self-sufficient more quickly, contributing to the economy through their work, taxes, and civic contributions—think of grandparents taking care of grandchildren while parents work or of children taking care of aging parents. Those closest relatives who come in through the family-based system bring great benefits—to their families and to our economy—and their applications should be processed immediately. ...

While our immigration system should be updated regularly to prioritize certain industries that are seeing rapid growth and need workers, we also need a new set of domestic policies that address the problems of declining economic conditions for both American-born and immigrant workers. ...

At the same time, we must put resources into helping immigrants integrate rapidly in their new home. The sooner immigrants can learn to speak English (while preserving their own languages) and obtain the skills and training they need to realize their talents, the sooner our nation will see the economic and civic benefits of their presence. ...

Finally, we must recognize our strong national interest in development, diplomacy, and the protection of human rights around the world. Rather than using the blunt tool of a militaristic foreign policy, American investments in countries that uphold the rule of law pays off by encouraging people to make their own opportunities where they live, rather than feeling forced to make perilous migrations. The logical, cost-effective way to address the root causes of migration is to focus our efforts on building equitable economies and rights in countries that send the biggest flows of people to America.

... We can do this, and we must. Imagine a country with immigration laws that actually work. We would know who is in the country, and they would not be hiding in the shadows but getting to know their neighbors, investing in houses and cars, and becoming quintessential Americans. In our country’s history, immigration has never been just about policy. It has always been about who we are and what we are willing to stand up for. That is why a fair and forward-looking immigration system must be at the heart of America’s moral imagination.

Read it all.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

"She is setting the pace for Womens Nordic Combined"

So declared the announcer ...
Yesterday our courtesy niece Tara Geraghty-Moats won the first ever International Ski Federation (FIS-it's French) Women's Nordic Combined Continental Cup. This level of international competition is one level below the World Cup where Tara goes next. The sport consists of a jump whose ranking sets up the seeding for a cross-country ski race. As Tara explains in the video, she likes the endurance demands of hard racing -- and the feeling of flying on the jumps.

At age 25, she was almost a grizzled veteran at the Continental Cup; this sport is a new addition to the highest level of international competition for women. Women ski athletes are still settling into it. But for Tara, it's a natural, a combination of demands on her body and mind that will allow her to show her strongest talents.

There's nothing easy about the life of a world class professional athlete in a lower profile sport. Especially a young woman world class professional athlete. There are the satisfactions of training and competing -- but also there is also a nomadic existence while grubbing for sponsorship. Tara is a deserving winner likely on her way to greater recognition.

Friday, December 14, 2018

It's about disreputable and respectable meaness

Paul Krugman offers his explanation of our Preznit's policy atrocities this morning under the headline Manhood, Moola, McConnell and Trumpism. One of the more endearing features of liberal US political discussion is that we think bad acts require explanation. It's one of our nicer attributes.

On a day when we read the story of a Guatemalan child who died after being left without food or water for hours by the Border Patrol and US envoys try to sell the joys of fossil fuel exploitation to an international climate conference, I think it is important to add a couple of additional Ms to Krugman's diagnosis: Trumpism is enabled and empowered by a Mob enjoying its own Meaness.

Lance Mannion writes a grand rant describing a large fraction of us.

It’s not just Trump. He is what he is, and that’s infuriating, but as I’ve said and has been said by wiser men and women, he’s the embodied expression of a general, and all-purpose hostility to having to be kind.

To having to care.

Trump’s cohorts of hideous men and women are a vindictive mob. They want to get even. They want to punish. But what they want to get even with is the world, which they have, quite rightly, recognized doesn’t care they exist. Who they want punished for this existential affront, however, is anybody and everybody they think is getting in the way of the world taking proper note of their existence and that turns out to be most of the rest of their fellow Americans and, although they’re apparently not aware of the irony, themselves as well, since the politicians they vote for to inflict the punishment don’t care about them and their existence except to the extent they are useful.

But Mannion insists that the active haters on the Trump train are not the whole of the moral catastrophe this small, damaged man spreads from his accidental perch. He is mining a familiar vein:

Trump assures his mobs that is ok to want revenge, it’s ok to hate. But he assures Republicans in general that they don’t have to care. As long as things are working out for them, whatever is happening to someone else somewhere else, everything’s fine, life is terrific, and America is great again. This is part of the essential message of almost every Republican politician since Coolidge. It will all work out if people mind their own business and others just mind theirs.

Meaness, both disreputable and respectable, is at the heart of our political sickness. As always, it is worth asking: who benefits?

Friday cat blogging

These splendid animals live in District 4 where cats can even wander outside without too much traffic danger.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

What it is really like to work on a campaign: making the technology work

Just about every volunteer who had experience on an election campaign during our recent work in Nevada made some version of the same remark: "It's so great that door knocking no longer means juggling paper lists!"

They were so right. I put in a couple decades working on elections when organizing a canvass meant dividing up reams of paper, training people to mark their paper lists carefully, recapturing all that paper from volunteers, and setting up the grubby, smeared returns for attempted bar code scanning if not manual transcription. Today's VAN (Voter Action Network) database coupled with the MiniVAN canvassing app for phones and tablets has completely changed the door knocking experience, entirely for the better.

And yet, and yet -- the dirty secret of the volunteer operation I worked in last fall was that fully one third of the results that came back with earnest, eager canvassers were so tangled or incomplete that they did not provide useful information about interactions with voters.

Volunteers had to learn three operations to use the MiniVAN.
  • 1) They had to sign into the program and download the list (turf) they were assigned to work on. This was a purely rote activity: there was only one right sequence of necessary actions and once we learned how to limit volunteers' access to any byways that would get them off course, they could usually accomplish this, at least once. (They had to learn the sequence just in case the app tossed them out once they were in the field -- a rare but not unheard of glitch.)
  • 2) They had to record each actual attempt to reach a targeted voter at a door by marking "not home" (the most frequent result), "deceased," "moved," etc.
  • 3) If they actually contacted the targeted (listed) voter, they had to mark whether the person supported our candidate strongly, less strongly, was undecided, or was for her opponent. This was the core information the canvass was seeking; the campaign aimed make sure supporters voted.
All this had to happen concurrently with walking around unfamiliar streets, trying to find the correct houses to knock at, and, when finding a voter, being prepared to persuade her to vote for our candidate. But those activities weren't about the MiniVAN app.

The most common reason that volunteers' data came back as gibberish was that they failed to perform either step 2) above (not recording attempted door knocks including failed ones) or step 3) above (having conversations but not recording the preference the voter revealed.) Day after day, a considerable fraction of well meaning volunteers would come back, try to tally up their results, and either give up or realize something was very wrong and try to reconstruct what had happened, not very accurately.

I believe the prime responsibility of a volunteer program on a campaign is not to waste volunteer's time. And after all, we did actually want the informative data that volunteers might be able to develop through all this walking about. You can win elections by using good data. We tore our hair, tweaked the training, tried different ways to emphasize what operations were involved -- and never really overcame whatever was keeping so many of our folks from succeeding with the MiniVAN. They were endlessly willing and not at all dumb, but we couldn't make the system work better for them or for the campaign.
Shortly after we won on November 6, having helped elect Democrat Jacky Rosen to the US Senate, I got around to reading Atul Gawande's reflections on why digitization that he believes in is failing in hospitals he knows so well. Medicine delights in what computerized records can offer -- and the process is failing some of its best practitioners. (I've explored Dr. Gawande's wise insights frequently on this blog.) He writes:

Something’s gone terribly wrong. Doctors are among the most technology-avid people in society; computerization has simplified tasks in many industries. Yet somehow we’ve reached a point where people in the medical profession actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers.

... Artisanship has been throttled, and so has our professional capacity to identify and solve problems through ground-level experimentation. Why can’t our work systems be like our smartphones—flexible, easy, customizable? The answer is that the two systems have different purposes. Consumer technology is all about letting me be me. Technology for complex enterprises is about helping groups do what the members cannot easily do by themselves—work in coördination. Our individual activities have to mesh with everyone else’s. What we want and don’t have, however, is a system that accommodates both mutation and selection.

This rings so true to me based on my experience with getting volunteers up to speed on the MiniVAN. We were trying to make a pretty simple technology work in tandem with what are complex human interactions when door knocking results in conversations that persuade. Maybe (some) people have great difficulty switching back and forth between the necessarily routinized task of recording a limited range of information and the demanding art of talking with human beings. Those people would be the ones who we never seemed to be able to help get the technology to work.

And soon enough, perhaps both the apps and the humans will be changed enough by our ongoing interplay in all of contemporary life so that the particular difficulties of 2018 will become quaint. Like Gawande, I don't know if that evolution will make us zombies or superhumans. Guess we'll have to wait and see to find out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

You go, Nancy!

I admit it; I love this report on the White House meeting yesterday:

After the meeting, Ms. Pelosi was less restrained, reportedly offering this piquant assessment to her conference colleagues: “It was so wild. It goes to show you: You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

As for the issue of wall funding, the Democratic leader was even more cutting: “It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him,” she said. “This wall thing.”

The Chuck and Nancy and Donald Show

If things seem a little thin in this web corner, it is because I'm still recovering from the election -- and thinking.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Monday, December 10, 2018

Something to be thankful for, I think

Because we all voted in the recent election, it is going to take a lot more signatures to put initiatives and constitutional amendments on the California ballot over the next four years. The number of signatures required is a percentage of the votes cast for Governor.

State law links the number of voter signatures required on an initiative or referendum to the total number of votes cast in the most recent election of a governor. The threshold for qualifying a measure was at its lowest point in decades for elections in 2016 and 2018, after record low turnout in 2014 for the reelection of Gov. Jerry Brown.

... Unofficial election tallies show initiative campaigns will need to collect 620,439 valid signatures for statutory measures appearing on the November 2020 ballot — compared to just 365,880 signatures the past two election cycles. Constitutional amendments will go from needing 585,407 valid signatures to requiring at least 992,702 signatures.

L.A.Times, December 8, 2018

This will be good for people who make their living collecting signatures, but perhaps discouraging to tech billionaires who promote vanity measures.

In general, I believe that when costs are lower, we find ourselves voting on too many matters of which we know little and on which an informed vote would be require information most of us don't have time to acquire. Pulling and hauling over relatively small interests should be resolved through the legislature. We pay our representatives to learn this stuff so we don't have to.

Public issues with wide constituencies will still find the wherewithal to get on the state ballot; I don't fear we'll miss much.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sure hope they are right

A growing number of Republicans fear that a battery of new revelations in the far-reaching Russia investigation has dramatically heightened the legal and political danger to Donald Trump’s presidency — and threatens to consume the rest of the party, as well.

Washington Post, December 8, 2018

They bought into this swindle -- let's make sure they own it.

Inadequately-noted: It's about (c)(4)s all over these days

Maybe not everywhere, but (c)(4)s are the way we rock for an awful lot more of us than were engaged in political activism in the last couple of decades.

What do these letters and numbers mean? They refer to section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue (tax) Code defining a kind of not-for-profit charity that is tax exempt as to its own income, but permitted to engage in some direct political activity. Used to be, most advocacy outfits were organized under section 501(c)(3) which treats contributions as tax deductible to the donors, but constrained direct political activity, especially endorsing candidates. Nonprofits were able to offer their donors (people, corporations and foundations) a tax deduction in return for staying out of politics.

These restrictions were drummed into nonprofit managers and boards. They were little understood and little explored. And, too often, they scared the stuffing out of otherwise transgressive advocates. I mean, how can you claim to stick up for undocumented immigrants and communities subjected to police abuse if you won't publicly denounce the politicians whose schtick is bashing your people? To a great extent, you can't. Can you claim to be serious about your goals if you are organized under a legal structure that amounts to accepting handcuffs on your advocacy? You've pretty much promised not to contend for power when only real political power will get you where you aim to go.

Nonprofits weaseled around amid the (c)(3) restrictions, more and less openly and bravely. Groups on the left always suspected that "charities" (especially churches) on the right ignored the rules; the suspicions were mutual.

Fortunately, the necessity to build new institutions and adapt old ones in response to the 2016 election of an anti-democratic GOP and an authoritarian president has pushed us onto new ground. Columbia Law Professor David Pozen explained in the Atlantic:
resistance groups have ... been transforming American politics behind the curtains, through the choices they are making about their place within the tax code. This seemingly dry legal development could turn out to be one of the movement’s most significant legacies, as it presages a new model of liberal activism for the age of Trump and beyond. Nonprofit groups that used to focus their energies on litigation and education are increasingly structuring themselves to be political players.

... Many of the key groups founded to resist Trump, including Indivisible Project, Onward Together, Our Revolution, Sixteen Thirty Fund, Stand Up America, and Women’s March, are abandoning the 501(c)(3) public-charity route and incorporating as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations instead. Social-welfare organizations are also exempt from federal income tax, but they have fewer fiscal privileges. Donations to them are not deductible. Yet unlike public charities, they may lobby as much as they wish, and they may engage in partisan political work—from asking candidates to sign pledges to registering like-minded voters to endorsing specific pieces of legislation—as long as that work is not their “primary” purpose or activity (a requirement so hard to define and enforce that, in the words of one leading nonprofit tax scholar, it “virtually invites wholesale noncompliance”). Since this past summer, social-welfare organizations have also been allowed to withhold the names of their donors from the Internal Revenue Service.

... Federal tax law allows social-welfare organizations to be affiliated with public charities as well as with PACs. So while anti-Trump start-ups are setting up shop as 501(c)(4)s, long-standing civil-liberties and civil-rights groups are reallocating resources to (c)(4) arms. In fiscal year 2017, for example, total assets of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (c)(3) grew 17 percent. Total assets of its (c)(4), on the other hand, grew 89 percent. This past June, the Southern Poverty Law Center spun off a (c)(4), the SPLC Action Fund. The NAACP went further and transformed itself entirely last year from a 501(c)(3) into a 501(c)(4). This restructuring was necessary, the incoming president explained, for the NAACP to “have the collective voice and impact that a civil-rights organization in 2017 and forward should have.”

... the shift toward 501(c)(4)s, PACs, and hybrid legal structures represents more than just a temporary adaptation to Trumpism. ...
I certainly hope so. The task of preserving rule of law and democratic rights is too important to allow it to be constrained by fears that donors are so attached to their (often negligible) tax deductions they'll run away if they don't get them.

The outpouring of direct (taxable) political donations to Dems in the midterms seems to prove that the money for democracy is there, if people are convinced it must be.

Importantly, labor unions are heavily regulated in their political work, but they too are sometimes reaching for the flexibility of the (c)(4) status. The UniteHERE effort we just worked on in Nevada was part of a big (c)(4) coalition providing an "independent expenditure" boost to Jacky Rozen's run for the Senate without coordination with the Democratic campaign.

Sure, the rich always have more with which to push back, but if we have the people, we can find enough so long as democracy holds. So let's continue to move away from letting tax code worries keep us quiet -- and, when we win power, clean up the tax code and campaign finance law to level the playing field. A right wing Supreme Court that confuses cash with speech will be a barrier -- but a determined people's ingenuity amplified by lawyers is deep and wide.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Saturday scenery: finally the rain came

Just an ordinary San Francisco street
Afterward there was air to breathe again.

Folks who didn't experience the Bay Area's 10 day lockdown caused by smoke from the Camp Fire can only imagine how glad locals were to get outside again.

I ran across this which helps quantify how damaging our air was:
Since 2008, pitch calls have been checked by Major League Baseball with an electronic system. In a typical game, an umpire makes 140 ball/strike calls. When there was a 150 percent increase over average carbon monoxide levels or the same increase in small particulate matter, the study found an average of 1.4 additional incorrect calls. Levels of pollution that high occur in about one in 10 games.
Our air quality was probably at least three times as bad as that at these ball games.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

So many worse crimes

I didn't think I'd ever say this, but I can't get into the pile-on of President Trump for failing to recite the Apostles Creed at HW Bush's funeral.

The guy is a classic upper class nominal Protestant of his generation. He doesn't have and never acquired the cultural capital to make appropriate noises during a liturgical church service. That makes him normal among privileged mid-20th century US Protestants for whom church was a social signifier, not a source of inspiration, values, or ethics. And he certainly doesn't have a glimmer about what that particular little formula is supposed to mean.

The creed is not a prayer. It's a laboriously negotiated 5th century philosophical statement designed to give Christians something to hold on to while they argued about the nature of God and humans. Though widely formally recited by multiple flavors of Christians, our credulous media would be hard put to find many people outside academia who look to it a source of meaning for their beliefs.

Let's bash Trump for the harm he inflicts on people, not for flunking at performing church.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Inadequately noted: AMLO ¡Presidente!

What if a massive earthquake shook the big building down the street we live on -- and we shrugged, if we even noticed? That's how the US media seems to be treating the inauguration of AMLO as president of Mexico on Saturday. No, Mexico is not some poor backward country of no account in the world. Our southern neighbor is a large, complicated, oil-rich, middle class nation and one of our most important commercial partners; AMLO's arrival may well force the self-referential USA to pay some attention.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador won election in July, but Mexico puts presidential winners through a long transition period. He is
the first classical leftist president of our southern neighbor since the end of the Mexican Revolution.

His inauguration day marked a radical shift from the same moment six years earlier, when tens of thousands of protesters streamed onto the streets of Mexico City and violently clashed with repressive riot police as former President Enrique Peña Nieto came to power.
AMLO is a man of the left, an immensely popular politician -- and a proven success at making government work in near impossible circumstance. As Mayor of the unwieldy monster that is Mexico City from 2000 to 2005, he managed to both fund social programs to improve the lives of the urban poor, and rebuild the city center while leading a commercial renaissance. No wonder Mexico's urban masses have long supported him.

The few mentions of the new Mexican president I've seen in the US press were speculations about whether the new government will cut a deal with Trump to hold asylum seekers in their insecure country; Vox's Dara Lind speculated on the Weeds podcast that AMLO might be open to a deal on migrants that paid off enough to fund his social development plans for Oaxaca. Could be; he's a far more sophisticated wheeler-dealer than our Orange Maniac. But he is also likely to prove a surprise on both sides of our border.

This story from L.A. Taco catches some of the excitement many Mexicans, in that country and here, are feeling about AMLO. He quickly took up Mexico's migration quandary.
During his inauguration speech this weekend, Lopez Obrador did make a nod to the sacrifices and resilience of Mexicans in the United States — another first. “During the neoliberal period, we became the second country in the world in terms of migration,” Lopez Obrador said, according to the official transcript of his remarks at Mexico’s congressional chambers.

“Twenty-four million Mexicans work and live in the United States,” he went on, apparently grouping both immigrants and U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. “We have the example of our compatriots who out of necessity have gone to build a life in the United States, and now they send their families $3 billion annually.”

... Migration north is a brain-drain, a population drain, and a fundamentally destabilizing phenomenon for both Mexico and the U.S., although for neoliberal, free-market enthusiasts, it’s always been a sort of too-bad, oh-well status quo. ... Mexican migrants in the United States continue to prop up both countries’ economies through taxes, remittances, and purchasing power ...
L.A. Taco wonders where AMLO will go with migration policy, but they enjoy the fresh breeze as it blows in.

North Americans need to stop treating Mexico as a poor, helpless, dependent; this attitude is our racism showing. Mexico has a new president who may well surprise us all.

Monument in Mexico City commemorating the nationalization of the country's oil. Gotta love a city with one of these.