Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Reality or Reality TV?

Erudite Partner continues to try to remind us of our wars. Her reminder runs against the flow in our society. Most of us, most of the time, float on, oblivious. She writes:

Suppose you got up one morning and your phone hadn’t charged overnight, the light switches had all stopped working, you couldn’t toast your Pop-Tarts, and there was no hope of a cup of coffee, because there was no water. No water all that day, or the next day, or the one after. What would you do after the bottled water was gone from the stores? What would you do as you watched your kids grow weak from thirst? Where would you go, when you knew you would die if you remained in the familiar place that had so long been your home? What, in fact, would you do if opposing armed forces (as in most of the cities mentioned above) fought it out in your very neighborhood?

I’ve been teaching college students for over a decade. I now face students who have lived their entire conscious lives in a country we are told is “at war.” They’ve never known anything else, since the moment in 2001 when George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terror. But their experience of this war, like my own, is less reality, and more reality TV. Their iPhones work; the water and light in their homes are fine; their screens are on day and night. No one bombs their neighborhoods. They have no citizenly duty to go into the military. Their lives are no different due to the “war” (or rather wars) their country is fighting in their name in distant lands.

Theirs, then, is the strangest of “wars” ....

Go read it all at The Nation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Time for a deep breath ... and then to kick more ass

... as the GOPers try to line up recalcitrant Senators who are hesitating to shove poor people over a cliff. We need to continue to remind them that constituents might get the message, if they vote for this thing, that Republican Senators are the ones who should be pushed into free fall.

The Progressive Change Committee is running this tear-jerking, but truthful, ad in West Virginia where Senator Shelly Moore Capito acknowledges that health care access in her state depends on Medicaid, but might be open to being bought off with a token fund for opioid addiction treatment.
This seems a worthy effort.

An ironworker for Wisconsin?

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, that utopian capitalist working to replace government with Ayn Rand's war of the strong on the weak, has a challenger.

Randy Bryce, local community activist and life-long resident of southeastern Wisconsin launches campaign for Congress in Wisconsin's first district to take on Speaker Paul Ryan.

I have no idea whether this iron worker and union leader can make a viable electoral run, but he sure has kicked off his campaign with first rate story video. Defeating a sitting speaker is a stretch, but it has happened. Anyone remember Tom Foley?

Bryce is a fountain of homespun quotes, candy for interviewers:

Right now people are dying to be heard. We just want [politicians] to know what problems we're facing. Things are getting worse, they're not getting better. And promises were made that are not being kept. And that's why you see me, and I'm hoping a lot more people like me around the country step up. Who better to talk about our issues than one of us?

Pacific Standard

[Bryce has] spent two decades as an ironworker, and aims to contrast that with Ryan’s record.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. And that’s about the same time that Paul Ryan has been in Congress. And I mean, I’m driving around and I’m pointing out to my son: ‘Look, daddy built that, daddy worked on that.’

“And I’m proud of helping build things in the last 20 years. And then I look at what Paul Ryan has done and he’s done nothing.”


So is this quotable guy the right candidate who can win Paul Ryan's carefully gerrymandered district? He might be. Or perhaps, someone else will think they can do a better job and convince more Democrats to nominate them in a primary. (Bryce has lost a pair of previous primaries.)

Democrats are currently going through one of those knock-down, drag-out family quarrels about the direction of the party. That's what Dems do when losing. It's healthy. I have no doubt that the party is drifting left in most ways, that Dems are ever more aware they need answers to both the economic and existential identity struggles that too many of us feel these days. Business as usual isn't working for too many people and the other party has no answers at all.

As is usually the case, when the people lead, our leaders will follow. Eventually.

There is no generic message for all districts and no one-size-fits-all sort of candidate who would be right for every district. The right person is going to differ a lot -- and who gets to run needs to be fought out locally through the primary process. National advocates and funders will think they can dictate who ought to run and sometimes they might be able to. But candidates who can't convince the locals of their "authenticity," whatever that means in local circumstances, usually can't win.

I will be honestly curious to see how the explosion of interest in running for office which has become one prong of resistance to Trump and the GOPer ascendancy plays out. In lots of areas, whatever party apparatus once existed has atrophied and there haven't been "natural" leaders stepping up to run. Newbie candidates are going to discover that running for office is draining, sometimes demeaning, and can be devastatingly disappointing. They won't succeed unless they know why they want these offices and unless they burn with drive to win. And should they win, they'll quickly learn that governing requires different skills, more painstaking and policy-centered, than running for office.

Randy Bryce is going to be fun to watch. May we see hundreds like him!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Unfortunately, all that really needs to be said ...

in one cartoon. Apparently the Republican powers-that-be sent their flacks out on Sunday (I skipped reading news) to say that nobody will be hurt when they pass this thing -- but that is a lie.

For example that if you are over 50 (and too young for Medicare), and have to buy your own insurance, on average your insurance premium will rise by $4500 a year.

But hey, gotta cut taxes for a few rich people.

Wealthcare will rapidly and perhaps slightly less rapidly, cut and cut some more from federal funding for health care for poor people -- this bill aims to sink Medicaid by a thousand cuts.

But hey, gotta cut taxes for a few rich people.

A decimated Medicaid will force old people out of nursing homes. We live longer these days; people -- most often women -- who end up in long term care will simply be warehoused as funding for Medicaid shrinks.

But hey, gotta cut taxes for a few rich people.

The beating will continue until some of these greedy GOPers fail at re-election time.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Resistance reminiscence

Vietnam-era draft refuser David Harris has shared what he learned from struggling to end the U.S. war whose horrors shaped my generation. For refusing to be drafted into the army, and organizing others to do the same, Harris served two years in prison, including tough time in solitary.

I am now 71 and the war that defined my coming of age is deep in my rearview mirror, but the question it raised, “What do I do when my country is wrong?” lives on.

For those looking for an answer today, here are some lessons I learned:

We are all responsible for what our country does. Doing nothing is picking a side.

We are never powerless. Under the worst of circumstances, we control our own behavior.

We are never isolated. We all have a constituency of friends and family who watch us. That is where politics begins.

Reality is made by what we do, not what we talk about. Values that are not embodied in behavior do not exist.

People can change, if we provide them the opportunity to do so. Movements thrive by engaging all comers, not by calling people names, breaking windows or making threats.

Whatever the risks, we cannot lose by standing up for what is right. That’s what allows us to be the people we want to be.

Harris' movement called itself the Resistance. The war and the movement against it engulfed a generation.

By the time the feds let Harris loose in 1971, the U.S. Army itself was falling apart as young citizens simply stopped playing by the rules, however they could. I was trained in "draft counseling" (advising young men about their legal options to avoid the draft) in that year. But in truth what we were doing after years of unpopular war was often trying to help unwilling soldiers who had gone AWOL stateside to figure out what options they could find. Often, the army didn't seem to want to find them. Other men served and fought in Vietnam for a cause they seldom fully affirmed. I know vets who completed high school, were drafted into the army, and quickly became addicted to the plentiful cheap heroin that Saigon supplied. Some even sabotaged the U.S. war effort from inside, so alienated were they from a war they felt was immoral and wasteful of lives, including theirs. Many had a very bumpy return to civilian life. By the 1980s, Vietnam vets were a huge proportion of the homeless population that ballooned on city streets in that decade. Believe it or not, U.S. cities weren't home to large, visible populations of homeless people before the Reagan recession of 1982.

Not surprisingly, the last thing both political elites and the military would want today is a broad compulsory citizen draft. Unwilling and unenthusiastic draftees can ruin an army. Our rulers know they must fight their wars with some mix of high tech armament and professional soldiers. This doesn't seem to much constrain them.

I think Harris's points remain germane to our current circumstances.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday scenes and scenery: San Francisco

We do live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. These days, EP and I are hiking diligently, trying to get ourselves in shape for carrying (small) loads later this summer. Mostly, we've stayed in the city or close by. You get the benefit of some local pics, all taken for practice using an iPhone as a primary camera.

Here EP poses next to a vehicle we encountered while heading to an urban trail. It is a good half a decade older than she is.

The grasses on the side of San Bruno Mountain, just south of the city, are extraordinarily colorful right now.

If the local rabbits don't learn to keep under cover, they are in danger of becoming some hawk's dinner.

The city looks magical from this San Bruno trail.

This shot is proof you don't have to leave the city to get a good hike; after an 800 foot climb from the Mission, you can nearly get blown over at the top of Twin Peaks.

Hidden away below the mansions of the Sea Cliff neighborhood, China Beach was once used by Chinese fishing boats, presumably because they weren't much welcome at anchorages in the harbor proper.

Now the beach is administered by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. If you can find it, there is free parking which was half empty on a summer morning. A tai-chi class had taken over the rec center roof.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Republican Senate health insurance atrocity

So rich people can be given a tax cut, poor and sick people must suffer. Unfortunately, it is that simple. GOPers don't care who will be hurt. They act as if they don't really consider the people who will suffer to be human like themselves; those who will lose access to quality medical are to be treated as worthless litter cluttering the playgrounds of the plutocrats.

The smart wonks at the Labor Center at UC Berkeley illustrate the story for this state:
All so Republicans can cut taxes for people who already enjoy more than they need.

There's something broken in the souls of elected officials who would pass this horror.

Friday cat blogging

Nicky and Sadie condescended to pose for their humans' visitors. Lovely, aren't they?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How to win in Georgia

I don't know whether Democrats can win many elections in Georgia at this time, but I am wildly enthusiastic about Stacey Abrams, a contender for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Abrams is currently the House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly and a State Representative. And she's an organizing wonk with a belief in person-to-person campaigns that warms my own wonkish heart.

Abrams insists that what Democrats need in Georgia is a robust field operation -- the capacity to knock on thousands of doors, identify potential sympathetic voters, listen to and talk with them, and get them to the polls. She believes there is a broad coalition to be built, if Dems will only do the work. She knows this takes time, but this -- not screaming TV ads -- is how she plans to succeed

Listen to her interview last night with Rachel Maddow.

If we invest in field, we can close the gap. ... to win a statewide election in Georgia, we have to close a 5 point gap. [By closing a 20 point gap in an historically Republican district, Jon Ossoff demonstrated] it can be done. ... We have voters in Georgia who will vote if we ask.

I'm pretty sure that somewhere, Abrams has a political consultant in her circle who is saying something like: "C'mon -- if you get on the Rachel Maddow show, tell her all the wonderful things your government will do for Georgians ... don't give 'em that campaign math ... that doesn't move voters."

I'd be saying that myself if I were in that role.

But hey, she's right about what Georgia Dems have to do to become a winning force, so you go Ms. Abrams!

For more on Abrams the uniter, see this excellent Joan Walsh story from the Nation magazine.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hold the circular firing squad

Okay, a lot of people's hopes got crushed when Georgia voters chose a hater of Planned Parenthood who has presided over voter suppression regulations instead a generic young white Dem yesterday. The result sucks.

But, as I have been writing since the election: just skip the circular firing squad if you possibly can. Given the assistance the GOPers and the Cheato are throwing their opponents day in and day out, we will eventually get it right.

Meanwhile, some smart observers have been thinking hard about the way forward. I recommend pondering these articles:
  • Franklin Foer at the Atlantic:

    To win again, the Democrats don’t need to adopt an alien agenda or back away from policies aimed at racial justice. But their leaders would be well advised to change their rhetorical priorities and more directly address the country’s bastions of gloom. The party has been crushed—not just in the recent presidential election, but in countless down-ballot elections—by its failure to develop a message that can resonate with people beyond the core members of the Obama coalition, and by its unwillingness to blare its hostility to crony capitalism. Polling by the group Priorities USA Action shows that a stunning percentage of the voters who switched their allegiance from Obama to Trump believe that Democratic economic policies favor the rich—42 percent, nearly twice the number who consider that to be true of Trump’s agenda.

    The makings of a Democratic majority are real. Demographic advantages will continue to accrue to the left. The party needs only to add to its coalition on the margins and in the right patches on the map. Doing that does not require the abandonment of any moral principles; persuasion is a different category of political activity from pandering.

  • Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

    ... it should be sobering to Democrats that a CBS News poll released Tuesday morning filled with devastatingly bad approval numbers for the Trump administration found that only 31 percent of voters thought a Democratic takeover of Congress would make their lives better.

    If your opponents are unpopular enough, it’s certainly possible to win elections this way. But especially for the party that has a more difficult time inspiring its supporters to turn out to vote, that’s an ominous sign. Right now on health care and many other issues, Democrats suffer from a cacophony of white papers and a paucity of unity around any kind of vision or story they want to paint of what is wrong with America today and what is the better country they want to build for the future. And until they do, they’re going to struggle to mobilize supporters in the way they need to win tough races.

  • and Ed Kilgore, that wise Georgian:

    Democrats searching for a silver lining in the Georgia race don’t have to look too far. This is the third consecutive special election (the fourth if you count South Carolina) in a historically Republican district where the Democratic percentage of the vote jumped sharply. Democrats will surely retake the House if the swing in their direction is similarly strong in 2018. In retrospect, ironically, tonight’s results may inspire new respect for Hillary Clinton’s performance–when she came within a point of Donald Trump in this district last November—and provide some new data points for doing well in GOP-leaning districts that resemble GA-06 with its highly educated population.

    As a long-time Georgian, I would add that in my experience Georgia Democrats don’t much show up to vote in special elections, or runoffs, much less special election runoffs. That so many did in this election was a minor miracle. ....

So much goes back to giving a broad enough swath of voters something they'll bestir themselves to vote for. It always does.

Summer solstice

For what it is worth, for some of us, this longest day of the year calls forth an internet-based performance art piece/act of resistance encompassed in the hashtags #MagicResistance and/or #BindTrump.

Here's a descriptive article. Here's a short video of one woman's spell.

I find most of the iconography associated with effort offensive: dopey images of women mixed the visual equivalent of pseudo-medieval mumbo-jumbo. But these artifacts aren't so bad:
All you authentic witches out there, do your thing. But please remember, violence can be loved to extinction by kindness -- it's the only healing way.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Is job lock coming back?

If the Republicans succeed in gutting the protections of Obamacare, here we go again.

Job lock -- the condition of being stuck in an ill-fitting or simply miserable job in order to have health insurance coverage -- will be back for people under 65 who can't be sure they can get good insurance, or any insurance, if they leave their current employer.

This aspect of the US healthcare non-system has always seemed particularly pernicious to me, perhaps because I worked many years in tiny businesses or as an independent contractor, where any insurance I might find was what I could get in the individual market. It's a peculiar historical accident that access to insurance in this country is tied to working for large employers; this quirk seems to have been a perk that employers could use to attract workers during World War II when wages were legally capped and labor was in short supply. And somehow we're still stuck with it.

Obamacare ended the linkage between access to insurance and particular jobs. Insurance may not have become completely affordable, but greater options and regulations on gross profiteering by insurers increased the chance that people could cut loose from unhappy jobs to try something else or to take early retirement.

It's abundantly clear that Republicans don't care about security and free choice for workers -- only about tax cuts for their rich sponsors.

The video is a verbatim recitation by health economist Aaron Carroll of an New York Times Upshot column by Austin Frakt.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Legal eagle sees way forward -- and I agree

Jack Balkin, a distinguished professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School, gave a talk at an alumni luncheon last week. He has written for years about what he calls "constitutional rot," the gradual failure of the U.S. system to preserve its democratic essence against oligarchic trends that crush popular participation and corrupt political actors.

For all his dire, and convincing, vision of regime decay, he's a hopeful guy. Here's his conclusion:

... The regime is crumbling; Trump is the last Reaganite. In the next few election cycles, a new regime will begin, offering the possibility of a new beginning in American politics.

Second, despite the influx of propaganda and the decline of separation of powers in restraining the President, many features of the constitutional system remain robust.  We still have an independent judiciary, a free press, and regular elections.

Third, we should not confuse what's been happening in the past several months with constitutional crisis. Constitutional crisis means that the Constitution is no longer able to keep disagreement within politics; as a result people go outside the law and/or turn to violence or insurrection. However unpleasant our politics may be, all of our current struggles are still within politics.

Fourth, we are headed for a big showdown in electoral politics over the next several election cycles.  One of the two parties will have to find a way to restore trust in government and renounce oligarchical politics.  The next decade will tell the tale. I remain hopeful.

Even if Trump left office tomorrow, and were replaced with Mike Pence, there would still have to be a reckoning over these issues. Indeed, even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, there would still have to be a reckoning ... The United States has failed to reconcile globalization with democracy.  It has not accommodated the demands of republican government to global economic change. This is a serious policy failure, and it has contributed to constitutional rot. The bill for this neglect is coming due. We will have to pay it.

The central question is how to preserve republican government in the face of a changing global  economy.  Trump is a merely symptom of the larger problem. So my advice to you is: keep your eye on the larger issue, and not on the President’s latest tweets.

I believe we will get through this, together. But we have to pay attention to the real sources of constitutional dysfunction, and preserve our republic. ...

Balkin's talk is not technical; I highly recommend reading it all.

Like Balkin, I remain hopeful, though wary and determined after five awful months of the Trump fiasco. (I worry particularly about his third point.) After all, I'm a Californian. People mostly forget these days that, throughout the 1990s, California responded to the terror the majority white electorate felt about demographic change with measure after measure to abuse and keep down immigrants, people of color, and even young people of whatever color with different attitudes. And yet, today, California leads a revolt against national Republican policies that seek to restore outright white supremacy while coddling fossil fuel barons to the detriment of our communities and the climate.

What changed in California? Demographic reality proceeded and people organized for justice and a better government. None of this was easy, nor is any of it complete. But right wing Republicans can't win a toehold in most of this state, the economy is strong if not always equitable, and communities continue to agitate for further reforms.

There is a way forward. Californians have lived a version of it. The republic can yet become what we make it.

Resist and protect much.
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