Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday cat blogging

Imagine seeing this when you open your eyes in the morning. Many times, Morty is right there on the pillow next to our faces.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Media consumption diet for this election year

Friends have asked me what I read to keep informed during this awful election. I read too much for my peace of mind, I think.

But since I've posted on this topic before, I do notice I've changed my sources somewhat.

For a long time, I've paid for and read the New York Times. I also regularly read the Guardian; it has done terrific work recording the hundreds of killings by U.S. police departments. And this election season, the Washington Post successfully lured me to pay up for its coverage. For months, it seemed to be doing the most thorough job of digging into Donald Trump's many shady enterprises. David Fahrenthold has been THE essential source of Trump revelations. The Wapo columnists are interesting, especially Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman at The Plum Line.

Several individual reporters/pundits have provided exceptional coverage and insight. Farai Chideya has offered profiles of subsegments of the electorate. Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent at Slate provides historically grounded commentary from an African American perspective. And Rebecca Traister at New York has succeeded in describing consistently and thoughtfully how woman hatred plays out in this contest.

Two newer journalism sites have often outpaced the legacy news media organizations, carving out niches that begged to be filled. I sure hope Vox thrives. There's amazing journalism coming from Ezra Klein's baby. And I find Talking Points Memo essential, not so much for their click bait outrage snippets, as for Joshua Marshall's historians perspective on the circus.

But probably the most important shift in my media consumption diet has been the addition of numerous podcasts. This has to do with being retired from the paid fray. I'm running and walking and photographing with delight. And at the same time I'm listening. Often this means audiobooks, but for the last six months it has frequently meant podcasts. The Vox guys (and Sarah Kliff) contribute The Ezra Klein Show and The Weeds. These provide interesting, thoughtful, background on just about anything in the news. I don't always (often?) agree with all expressed here, but that is what makes these productions interesting. Another podcast I value a lot is Code Switch: a conversation about race and identity. Finally I should mention one election focussed production, The United States of Anxiety, a series well worth listening to which digs into race and class dynamics as this season reveals them in suburban Long Island. It is terrific journalism. The first three of these I'll still be listening to after November 8.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On claiming our victories along the way

I'm in Reno this week, knocking on doors with members of the Culinary Workers of Nevada (UNITE-HERE) trying to push out the vote for Catherine Cortez-Masto. Cortez-Masto would be the first Latina in the Senate, nothing to sneeze at. Yes, this will help win Nevada for Hillary Clinton too.

So this seems a good moment to share Erudite Partner's latest TomDispatch article: Why Fighting for Justice Is Like Surfing.

... How do outrageous ideas — for example, that women are human beings, or that the U.S. locks up way too many people, or even that gay people should be able to get married if they want to — suddenly morph into everyday commonsense? It’s rarely an accident. It almost always involves dedicated people working away for years on an issue, often unnoticed, before it seems suddenly to surge into general awareness. ...

Read it all at the link. It will cheer you up.

And if this ugly election gets you down, do something. There's nothing more cheering than working for justice. You don't have to go far afield as I have; there are almost always necessary local campaigns that are organized to put you to use. Really -- working together with others for our victories is part of enjoying them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The worst ballot ever: part three, San Francisco measures

Can it really be that having spent hours on the state propositions, I now have City Measures A through X plus RR to try to comprehend? Yes, it can. Here goes:

Measure A: School bonds We need to fund the schools. (See also state Prop. 51.) Yes.

Measure B: City College parcel tax We need to fund City College. (See also the Community College Board.) Yes.

Measure C: Affordable housing loans We voted bonds in 1992 for seismic upgrades and some of that money is still around. This redirects it to affordable housing. Yes.

Measure D: appointments to vacant elected offices Since Willie Brown's time (1996-2004), mayors have frequently been able to overturn the will of the voters by replacing uncooperative supervisors with more malleable ones. Sometimes a sitting supervisor won higher office; sometimes the mayor dangled a plum appointment. This would stop that practice by requiring a special election for any vacated seat within 180 days. Let the people vote! Yes.

Measure E: Street trees WTF? The Department of Public Works has been passing off responsibility for trees on sidewalks (often the work of Friends of the Urban Forest) to property owners. Too many of these would rather cut the trees than assume the cost of care. This would raise $19 million to cover the cost of city care of the trees by a parcel tax based on property frontage. We'd be willing to pay for the care of our tree. Yes.

Measure F: Youth voting in local elections Would allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in San Francisco elections. If we can pass this, we'll be emulating Scotland. That seem like a pretty sane place. Youth activists jammed up the system to get this on the ballot. It's a great story. Yes.

Measure G: Department of Police Accountability This isn't going to solve the problem of the San Francisco Police Department running wild in communities of color. That's going to take "reconstitution," starting over with a command structure that comes from outside the old boy network and current police union. This would give what has been called the Office of Civilian Complaints at least a tiny amount of independence. Yes.

Measure H: Public Advocate New York has one of these and it seems to have got a pretty good mayor, Bill de Blasio, out of it. A Public Advocate's job is to make sure you’re getting fair treatment from the government. My termed out supervisor David Campos thinks we could use one; Campos is a smart guy so I am willing to give it a whirl. Yes.

Measure I: Funding for seniors and adults with disabilities This is a "set-aside" -- a budget category that legislators won't be able to wheel and deal with. I don't like that sort of thing. We elect people to figure out how to make all the interests get their piece; they should do their jobs. Yet I also know that some populations get screwed by the "regular" process. Am I really going to vote against old people? No. So, reluctantly, yes.

Measure J: Homeless services and transportation Well we certainly need them, so yes.

Measure K: Sales tax increase But apparently San Francisco can't have homeless services and transportation unless we also vote an additional sales tax. This is extortion. Let the tech billionaires pay for keeping the city whole! Apparently we can't do the obvious -- tax the people with the money -- so we have to do this. Very reluctantly, yes.

Measure L: Muni oversight This would let the supervisors appoint some of the members of the board of the transit system. Currently the mayor appoints all of them. Since nobody in their right mind thinks the mayor stands up for the interests of anyone but developers and tech money men, it would be helpful to introduce some popular friction into an otherwise closed system. Yes.

Measure M: Housing and development commission This aims to move some power over development away from the Mayor's Office because in recent seasons, the Mayor's Office has seemed to be shilling for developers rather than acting in the interests of all San Franciscans. Measure like this are what happens when people feel excluded from control over their homes. Yes.

Measure N: Non-citizen voting in School Board elections Sure -- remember whose kids are in the schools. These kids are our future. This is not a crazy San Francisco novelty: it happens in some parts of Maryland and Chicago. Yes.

Measure O: Office development in Hunters Point Lennar is a big corporate developer, long beloved of our mercenary city fathers going back to Willie Brown. It's always been their hope to develop the old Navy property and the city's last Black community by giving it away to Lennar. This would violate existing city rules which limit office development because developers never pay for the infrastructure and transit costs their projects create. The rest of us pay for that stuff while the corporations take the gravy. Lennar already won bounteous permits in Hunters Point. Enough. No.

Measure P: Competitive bidding for affordable housing San Francisco has an experienced cast of nonprofit housing developers based in our different communities such as Chinatown, the Mission, etc. This would require three bids for any city project, forcing groups that have managed to arrive at an intricate web of interconnections to compete. If there weren't three bids, a nonprofit housing project could not go forward.. Talk about the kind of over-regulation that conservatives (like the measure's conservative author Mark Farrell) usually rave against. It almost makes you think that the author doesn't want any nonprofit housing at all. No.

Measure Q: Tents on the sidewalk This is another Hate the Homeless measure. We vote on this sort of thing every few years. Street camping is already illegal -- but after all, we must Hate the Homeless. NO.

Measure R: Neighborhood crime unit Great, we've got a supervisor wanting us to vote to require the SFPD to focus on "quality of life" issues. That is, more Hate the Homeless. How about an initiative to disarm these killers on the loose among the communities of color? There's a bit of micro-managing I could get behind. NO.

Measure S: Hotel tax allocation We already tax hotel visits. Let's put some of that into housing homeless families. Yes.

Measure T: Lobbyist contributions Bars certain lobbyist contributions to candidates, though it is not clear whether many would escape its prohibitions. This kind of law often just moves money around. Still we have to try. Yes.

Measure U: Affordable housing requirements This would let developers off the hook for building as large a proportion of housing units for low income people as the current law requires -- and thus raise their profits. San Francisco is a profitable place to build. Make them recognize that the city's citizens retain some rights to control what they build and how many of us they can force out for their gain. NO.

Measure V: Sugary beverages tax We certainly should tax sodas! The beverage industry is trying to describe this as a "grocery tax". Sugar water is not my idea of groceries. This is coming; they can only hold it off for so long. Yes.

Measure W: Mansion tax This would raise the transfer tax on properties that sell for more than $5 million. I can't believe it would kill the buyers and sellers. Yes.

Measure X: Arts and industrial space retention San Francisco wouldn't be San Francisco if there were no place for the arts and small shops. But if the tech money gets its way, we'll have nothing but gleaming steel and orange paneled condos. This tries to help. Yes.

Measure RR: BART bonds I like BART (our subway). It's expensive, unless, like me, you are on senior fares, whereupon it is the best bargain around. It was designed for commuters from suburbs while we could really use more lines to get around town. But we need to fund its upkeep. Yes.

Part one: federal, state and local candidates.
Part two: state propositions

Monday, October 17, 2016

The worst ballot ever: part two, state propositions

The candidates on my crazy California ballot were the easy part. Here I'll pass along how I voted on the 17 state ballot measures. Yes, this is democracy gone berserk. There is no way to make informed choices on all of this. Worse, having just been out of the state for two months, I'm nowhere near as on top of these as I might be. But here goes:

Prop. 51: School bonds Since we've made it almost impossible to raise taxes, we issue bonds. The general election has reminded me how important education might be to preserving decency. Yes

And this little six-year-old said: "Because the other guy called someone a piggy, and you cannot be president if you call someone a piggy."

from Michelle Obama, Oct. 14, 2016

Prop. 52: Medi-Cal hospital fee This seems to be about making private hospitals pay their fair share. Yes

Prop. 53: Revenue bond vote This would make us vote on more items we know nothing about; longer ballots ahead. It isn't always comfortable, but in general we're smarter to delegate most governing to our legislators. No

Prop. 54: Legislative sunshine Makes the legislature publish what is in bills before votes and requires steaming video of all sessions. Yes though weakly. You can't entirely legislate transparency. If some want to play tricks, they'll find ways.

Prop. 55: Tax extension on the rich No brainer here. These are tax rates that already exist. We can't have the state we want unless it is paid for. Yes.

Prop. 56: Cigarette tax Hell, Yes!

Prop 57: Earlier parole This one has parts. It would open the possibility of parole for 30,000 non-violent felons and allow prison authorities to credit inmates with "good behavior." All fine and good, but it also shifts the decision on whether to try juveniles as adults from prosecutors to judges. That might turn out to be a significant reform as prosecutors have too many tools to get easy plea agreements as it stands. All these are baby steps toward dealing with a a racist, crazy-quilt system, but better than the status quo. Yes.

Prop. 58: English language learning This repeals one of California's racial backlash initiatives (Prop. 227) from the 1990s when the white electorate was trying to wish away the emerging majority of color. We effectively outlawed bilingual education with that one. These days we appreciate that bilingual education can be an effective strategy for ensuring that newcomer children learn in the public schools. About time! Yes.

Prop. 59: Overturning Citizens United Puts us on record as wanting the Supremes to allow regulation of corporate money in elections. No legal effect, but a cause about which reformers are passionate. Yes.

Prop. 60: Condoms in porn films This is the sort of thing that makes the state a national laughing stock. Rightly. Both Dems and GOPers think this is unnecessary, stupid law. We'll probably pass it. Not sure if I can bring myself to vote on it.

Prop. 61: Drug prices From the ads I've seen on TV, Big Pharma thinks this one might cost them. It enables the state to mandate that it pay no more for drugs than the Veterans Administration. Anything to nick Big Pharma. Yes.

Prop. 62: Death penalty repeal Finally something I know something about. Long time readers here will know I spent all of 2012 campaigning for a previous version and it lost narrowly. The death penalty is arbitrary (only about three county prosecutors call for it), crazy expensive, and inevitably racist in application. A federal judge who looked into it called it "dysfunctional" and "beyond repair." People realize this when they think about the reality that we have something like 750 men on death row and haven't executed any of them since 2006. Californians have had four more years to learn that the promise of retribution or closure embodied in the death penalty is cruel phony-baloney. Yes.

Prop. 63: Ammunition sales Most anything to restrict wider access to guns seems right to me. This is a step in the right direction. The law would require background checks for ammunition purchases and establish a system to get guns away from people with felonies or domestic violence orders. Yes.

Prop. 64: Marijuana legalization Gonna happen. About time no one goes to jail for pot. Yes.

Prop. 65: Carry out bags The plastic bag makers want us to help their polluting industry. This is a con. Ain't it great that we have a system in which, if you spend enough money, you can make us vote on anything? No.

Prop. 66: Death penalty enforcement Prosecutors strike back. Recognizing that sentiment against the death penalty is growing statewide, they want to try to resuscitate it. It is not that they are naturally blood thirsty (at least most of them.) But we have to understand how the "justice" system actually works. Those jury trials you see on TV are vanishingly rare. Most people charged with crimes make a plea bargain with the prosecutor for an agreed sentence rather than take the expense or risk of trial. Prosecutors love having the death penalty in their armory -- "take this plea or we'll make your offense a death case." That's powerful stuff. The so-called reforms in Prop. 66 won't work. I have great confidence that the capital defense lawyers will still be able to gum up the works -- and that California therefore will be no more likely to save money or execute offenders if this passes. Prosecutors don't need us to make their job easier. NO

Prop. 67: Plastic bag ban Now we're talking. San Franciscans have proved able to do without plastic bags; the rest of the state can too. This is what the plastic companies fear: we don't need their polluting product. Yes.

Having worked through these, I'm a little surprised how many I am voting "yes" on. That won't discourage the interests that put them on the ballot, but quite a few seem sensible or perhaps necessary because legislators can't or won't dare pass them the old-fashioned way.

Part one: federal, state and local candidates.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The worst ballot ever: part one, the candidates

My crazy California ballot has arrived and I aim to get it out the door ASAP. Why the hurry? If the San Francisco registrar is competent, and the campaigns are competent, I'll then drop off the radar and stop getting robocalls, human calls, and bushels of campaign mail. I don't count on it, but it seems worth a try.

As far as California federal and state officeholders go, there's not much that matters here. I'll vote for Kamala Harris for U.S. Senate with a certain lack of fervor. That's not entirely her fault; her only opponent on the ballot is another, slightly less desirable, Democrat as a consequence of the deeply discriminatory top-two primary system we have in this state. When enthusiasm and accident align, small parties and even some Republicans at the state level will never even get to put their case to the voters in the general election here where Democratic registration is 44 percent to GOP 29 percent. This is just wrong. Primaries should not limit which political parties get to present their case. As for Harris herself, she's been an acceptable Attorney General and would rise in my estimation if she ordered her office to investigate the case of Amilcar Perez Lopez, killed by the SFPD. But I am not holding my breath about that before the election.

My Congresscritter Nancy Pelosi will be re-elected in a walk. That's good for the country; she's a good leader for wobbly House Democrats. She is sometimes far to the right of her constituents, but at this point her constituency is the Democratic Party, not us.

I do face a State Senate race that matters. Our incumbent is termed out (stupid rule) and I'll be voting for Jane Kim. She wasn't my first choice some years ago for the San Francisco supervisor seat she currently occupies, but I was impressed even then by the competence and energy of her campaign. Should the quality of a campaign matter in choosing a candidate? Perhaps it is not the most important variable, but it matters to me as someone who works in elections. She's been a generally progressive supervisor and not part of the tech money club that is transforming the city without residents consent. Her opponent never met a landlord or developer he didn't cozy up to.

No Assembly vote. I'm still unhappy after seeing a run-of-the-mill big money chasing Democrat succeed to a seat which had been occupied by the termed-out progressive pol I admire most, Tom Ammiano. Local enmities run deep.

I don't think we should be voting on judges. It's a bad practice, exposing aspirants to the temptations of campaigning -- raising money and charming barely concerned voters. It's really hard for most of us to form intelligent opinions about judicial qualifications. Judges usually agree, retiring midterm so governors can put in their choice. Then they stand for election as incumbents, sometimes drawing challengers. This year, we're facing several aspirants for an opening as a Superior Court Judge (the lowest tier of the state system.) I'm voting for Victor Hwang, convinced by the Bay Guardian endorsements. In this case, it is a team thing: Hwang's opponent comes out of Mayor Ed Lee's big tech money axis. These guys need as many knocks up side the head as we can give them, so Hwang gets my vote.

As a resident of San Francisco's Supervisor District 9, I'm voting on one of these this year too. That's easy. Hillary Ronen is one smart lady. Like that other Hillary, she comes across as deep in the policy weeds; I've watched her sit in meetings taking in the noise and crosstalk, then raise points that show she is already thinking through the thicket of accumulated law and practice that might matter to achieve implementation. And she's part of a team, a slate of candidates who will work to assure that Ed Lee can't entirely give away the city to his tech money backers. The others, each running their own local races are Sandra Fewer in District 1; Aaron Peskin in District 3; Dean Preston in District 5; and Kimberly Alvarenga in District 11.

Ah yes -- then we get to the School Board. I am deeply certain that most of us should not be voting in this contest. Those of us without kids or other young relatives in the schools, what do we know about the kind of local education policies which these people determine? Not much. I worked very hard once to elect a School Board candidate and she not only won, she came in first out of eight or so. Consequently I know what it takes to get elected here: the city votes for 1) the people whose names they encountered most often and 2) candidates who tickle the various identity groups into which we divide ourselves. I think I'll follow the Bay Guardian suggestions but I can't manage to feel I have any worthwhile arguments for these choices.

Then there is the Community College Board. Because City College has been fighting for its life for the last half decade, I feel somewhat better informed here. Because San Franciscans struggled long and hard to preserve the sort of community-serving institution that decades of commitment had built (rather than succumb to pressure to downsize into a career certification mill), we've proved we want the school to continue. We've even voted bonds and taxes to pay for it. Shanell Williams, Tom Temprano, and Rafael Mandelman were in the thick of the fight to save City College. Let's see them nurture it!

I get to vote for Bevan Dufty for BART (rapid transit) board. It feels strange; I worked for his opponents when he was District 8 supervisor. But he's been working for improve conditions for homeless people in the years since and my friends who labor in those vineyards give him good marks. So, okay.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Can I just say what a pleasure it is to watch a slimy tech billionaire throw good money down the drain?

Saturday scenes: a memorial for a cyclist

On a San Francisco street corner, an obsolete(?) fire call box. What's this?

Friends of Kirk Janes have told his story on stickers wrapped around the post.

It's been eight years, but he is remembered, at least until the city street cleaners come through to scrape off his story.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Hope in a tough season

Here at the bitter end (that seems the right adjective, doesn't it?) of this nasty campaign, it is great to share a story from someone for whom taking part is an occasion for hope.

Yaritza Garcia is too young to vote herself and her family members are undocumented. But she believes it will make the lives of her family and friends better if she works to get those who can vote out to the polls.

Young people of color are always told that we don’t know what is happening around us. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to make a change for myself or other people around me. But I feel voting gives me the freedom to prove them otherwise. One vote can always make a difference.

Many people don’t get the chance to vote since they don’t have legal status or they aren’t citizens. My mother and sister are not allowed to vote. Despite living here for decades, they never get the opportunity to vote and improve their quality of life. That’s why young voters of color need to vote. People of color are the majority of the population in California. However, most youth of color find it difficult to vote because work, school, and other priorities come first. But also voting information, like the propositions and how they impact communities, is not reaching them in a way that speaks to them. In a way, elections are set up in a way so that we don’t go vote. We are convinced that our votes don’t matter, therefore, we uphold the stereotype that we don’t care.

But if young voters of color aren’t turning out to vote, then who is going to help us get our voices and opinions to matter during elections? ... Can we continue to stand on the sidelines while others vote for us?

Ms. Garcia is a member of Californians for Justice, the organization to which so many readers of this blog contributed last summer.

For those of us who have been around too many political laps, cynicism is easy and safe. But refusing to hope can be self-indulgence; young people remind us to get over ourselves.

Friday cat blogging

Morty doing his thing: looking beautiful.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

At home in the Mission ...

... where homes are wrenched from their occupants.

Tenants organized by Causa Justa spoke out against a landlord who changed the locks on their long-term home in front of a property management company on Valencia Street yesterday.

Displacement goes on; people fight back.

Election minutiae: NFL being upstaged?

American football and U.S. elections simulate warfare constrained by a framework of rules. This chart of TV ratings suggests our present unruly fray is sucking our attention from one national pastime to the other.

Data via MMQB.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Feminism in a Clinton White House

Continuing with my resolve to pay attention to what a Hillary Clinton presidency might/will be like, here's some fascinating banter from two New York Times reporters, Jodi Kantor and Susan Dominus. Kantor wrote what I considered a genuinely revealing book about the Obama White House. She's thought hard about this sort of thing.

[Jodi Kantor]: ... This could be messy. Defining the Feminist Thing to Do in a woman’s White House is likely to be a running riddle, because which is the project: role reversal or wiping away outdated roles altogether?. Perhaps the first husband should smash the outdated conventions of the presidential-spouse role, do away with the floral-botanical complex for good? Publicly discuss Syria policy and environmental protection, because who made the rule that smart presidential spouses don’t discuss that stuff, anyway? But the risk of undercutting or overshadowing Hillary Clinton is great, as we saw in the 2008 race.

Cosmically, it seems as if figuring this all out could be part of Bill Clinton’s penance for the damage he did years ago. He is unlikely to talk about it. First spouses have little incentive for public introspection — name the last deep interview Michelle Obama did — but his actions will speak volumes. ...

[Susan Dominus]: Of course, we do have a precedent for a first spouse who advised the president on foreign policy, and pretty much everything else, and that was Hillary Clinton. Many of her supporters at the time called that feminism; but as you suggest, if Bill were to play as much of a role in her presidency as she did in his (especially in his first term), it would look anything but feminist, to the public.

... I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but it is comforting to realize that Hillary Clinton is probably not singular, that there will be other women running for president as serious candidates going forward. And possibly those elections will be far less fraught than this one. ...The recording has amplified, for many women, their sense of the urgency of this election. It’s not just that they can’t bear Trump, or that they love Hillary; it’s that the election is about something bigger now than just the office of the presidency. The recording put many women directly in touch with their outrage about the outdated, the exclusionary, the sexist, the predatory, the power-and-otherwise grabby. ...

The sexist environment created by electing the first woman U.S. president isn't going to go away just because HRC vanquishes Mr. GOP Id.
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