Thursday, May 24, 2018

#144 / Depending

An article in The Washington Post published on May 22nd was advertised in an email alert that bore this headline: "So much depends on Robert Mueller." The actual article, by columnist David Von Drehle, had a slightly different headline: "Mueller has no room for mistakes." The Post, in other words, is giving the impression that the future of Donald Trump's presidency will largely be determined by what Special Counsel Muller decides to do.

An article in The New York Times, also published on May 22nd, gives a somewhat different impression. The Times' article provides a roadmap to impeachment indicating that Muller's role in the future of the presidency, while important, is in no way going to be determinative.

Both articles are worth reading. My comment relates to the use of the word "depends" in the headline from the email alert sent by The Post.

Our democracy, if it is to survive, can never "depend" on the actions of any government official (including the president, by the way). We are tempted, always, to hope that one person (whether it is President Obama, Robert Mueller, or someone else) can "solve" our problems for us. That approach assumes that we are the "governed," not the "governing." Hoping that someone else is going to extricate the nation from the nightmare of the Trump presidency - and the nightmare of our failed government - is an illusion. WE, not someone else, are going to have to organize, strategize, and act.

Waiting for Robert (or for anyone else), is just delaying the inevitable. The future of our democracy will require political action by ordinary Americans.

That means "us."

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

#143 / You Make The Choice

On Tuesday, May 22, 2018, the Mercury News ran a front-page article on the $3 toll hike proposed in all nine Bay Area counties; Bay Area voters will be deciding this June. The headline on the article, in the hard copy edition of the paper, reads as follows: "Traffic or higher tolls? You make the choice." Here is the first line of the article:

Voters in all nine Bay Area counties next month will face a difficult choice: endure bridge tolls reaching as high as $9 by 2025 or continue to suffer through seemingly constant traffic gridlock with few viable alternatives.

The article and its headline suggest that raising tolls will eliminate or significantly reduce the "seemingly constant traffic gridlock" that we all know so well. It's a simple choice; one thing or the other. You decide! To use a phrase often encountered in the courtroom, this conclusion "assumes a fact not in evidence."

There is no solid evidence that spending more money on road widening and related efforts will actually reduce traffic congestion. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that such new expenditures actually increase traffic congestion because of "induced demand." The article notes that transit advocacy groups, like TRANSDEF, oppose the toll hike, and that the voters and commuters quoted in the article are wary of the claims that the proposed toll increases will reduce congestion. Read the article to understand the debate. 

Read a related article to consider another important issue. The headline on that related article is this: "Who backs $3 toll hike? You might be surprised." The key issue raised in this article, though not explicitly, is "who pays?" If it does make sense to spend lots of money to decrease traffic congestion (and there is no proof that the expenditures planned will achieve that result), it is obviously important to decide who should pay for the proposed improvements. The current proposal is that commuters should pay, through a toll increase. As it turns out, the big backers of the proposed toll increase are the major Silicon Valley corporations whose workers are the ones stuck in the traffic.

In other words, large corporate employers, like Facebook, Google, and want drivers to pay for the traffic improvements that will result from the toll hike. 

Why not the companies?

We know why not. The proposal that ordinary drivers should pay for the improvements will let the giant corporations off the hook, and our political system, from the local level to the national level, is structured to make sure that these corporations never have to pay their fair share.

I suggest that a fundamental breakdown in our politics is evident in the toll hike proposal. Should you vote for it? As the Mercury says, "you make the choice."

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

#142 / Assigning Blame

William T. Vollman, pictured, a prolific author, is writing books about climate change. The books are part of a series called Carbon Ideologies. The first book in the series, No Immediate Danger, was published on April 10, 2018. The second book in the series will be called No Good Alternative, and is scheduled for publication on June 5th.

In an interview published in Boston Review, Vollman says, among other things:

I think it is important to assign blame to people who have the power to do better and cut safety corners in the interest of making a buck. The people who delay and refuse to talk—all to our detriment.

I can't disagree with that! Did somebody just say, Scott Pruitt?

Can't disagree with that, either!

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Monday, May 21, 2018

#141 / Transparency

I am not a big fan of Julian Assange. I am more of an Edward Snowden kind of guy.

Still, the picture above, showing Assange with a message about privacy, is right on target, in my opinion. Let's give credit where credit is due! I tend to think that Edward Snowden would agree.

Incidentally, the picture above comes from an article in TruthDig. The article is titled, "Why the DNC Is Fighting WikiLeaks and Not Wall Street." That's a good question, right? Click the link to read the story.

I am not much of a DNC fan, either!

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

#140 / Censorship For Selfies?

Here is Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist known for his commitment to freedom and free speech. Who is that with him? Well, that is Dr. Alice Weidel. Weidel is a German politician who has served as Leader of Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the Bundestag and a Member of the Bundestag (MdB) since October 2017. For those not closely following German politics, the AfD is a "right-wing" party, espousing populist, anti-immigration, nationalistic, xenophobic, and homophobic positions.

Ai Weiwei was criticized for allowing himself to be photographed with Weidel. Here is his response:

"I don’t believe that differences in political views or values between people should act as a barrier in communication,” the artist said. “My efforts are in tearing down those boundaries. Alice Weidel is a democratically elected politician and has the right to freely express her political views. Although her views are completely the opposite of mine, no one has the right to judge her personal life. 
“At the same time, no one has the right to judge who I choose to take a photograph with,” he added. “If you cannot tolerate free expression, your political views are even more terrifying.”

The idea that you should not even talk to someone with whom you have political disagreements (especially when those disagreements are significant) is just the opposite of what democracy requires.  Ai Weiwei got it right!

Those of us who live in Trumpland, or meet people from there, should remember the lesson!

Below, two pictures from the Ai Weiwei exhibition at Alcatraz, taken in March 2015. The exhibition celebrated political prisoners and prisoners of conscience:

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(2) and (3) - Gary Patton personal photos

Saturday, May 19, 2018

#139 / What Soldiers Think

On April 15, 2018, The New York Times ran a story on the first page of its "Sunday Review" section that was headlined, "The Warrior At The Mall." The author of this opinion piece, Phil Klay, has written a short story collection called Redeployment. Klay is a veteran of Dartmouth College and the United States Marine Corps. 

Klay tells us what soldiers are saying, as they carry out their duties in postings to dangerous places like Afghanistan and Iraq: 

We're at war while America is at the mall.

While we are at the mall, this is the kind of world we are creating, in the places where American troops have been deployed: 

This kind of obscene destruction will stop when soldiers currently assigned to places like Iraq, Niger, Syria, and Afghanistan are redeployed to the mall, and when ordinary men and women are drafted and sent off to kill and be killed in these dangerous places.

I was a draft resister. I hate the military draft, but if the United States is going to deploy soldiers to foreign countries to destroy their shopping districts, and that's the choice our nation wants to make, then ordinary men and women should be removed from our own shopping districts and sent to do the job. 

That, I think, would end a shameful era of American military intervention, because ordinary men and women would rather be at "the mall" than in Afghanistan. Or in Iran. Or in all the other places where soldiers like Klay are thinking just what Klay has reported. 

It is popularly thought that the War in Vietnam was finally ended by public opposition to the idea that young American men could be drafted, against their will, to go kill people in a battle that virtually no one in the country, including the President, could justify or even explain. 

I feel pretty confident that the same approach, if implemented again, would have the same result. Congress receives no pressure to end the unjustified military interventions in which America is engaged, because constituents are "at the mall."

If we had to do our own killing, we would not choose to do any killing at all.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

#138 / A Warning To My Fellow Liberals

Pictured is Annafi Wahed, a self-described "bleeding heart liberal," who has been mentioned in this blog before. The headline on today's posting is Wahed's advisory to liberals (not mine). These words of warning are the headline to Wahed's recent column in The Wall Street Journal.  

Wahed has created a political website called The Flip Side. Its mission is to "help bridge the gap between liberals and conservatives," by providing what the website claims to be "smart, concise summaries of political analysis from both conservative and liberal media." A subscription is free. I have not, as I write this, actually sampled the analysis Wahed is providing, but I do plan on seeing what The Flip Side has to offer.

Wahed's past affiliations include a stint on the campaign staff of the Clinton For President campaign. Allow me to say that this does not, automatically, translate into credibility with the kind of "liberals" who supported Bernie Sanders, just to take one example. Wahed's column, for the most part, bemoans the fact that her credentials as a "card-carrying member of the liberal elite" has not insulated her from hostile encounters with liberals.

Frankly, this should not be surprising to her. As you can probably tell, I am rather skeptical of Wahed's claim to be a voice for the "liberals," many of whom, myself included, see income inequality as the issue that should be front and center for "liberals" at this time. Wahed's past "six-figure salary at a Big Four accounting firm" is not translating into the kind of respect from liberals that she so evidently craves. 

The main point Wahed makes is, nonetheless, worth taking seriously. I wouldn't phrase it as a "warning," so much, but as wise counsel for anyone who wants to be effective in politics. I do have some experience in that arena, and my "Five Simple Rules" for elected officials includes a "Rule #3" and a "Rule #4" that speak to this topic: 

Rule #3: “Remember Who Elected You.” On many of the big issues, there are at least two responsible and reasonable positions if not an even greater number. Presumably, if you're an elected official, you were elected because of the positions you took. If you were elected as an environmentalist, be an environmentalist. Do what you said you would do. After all, you got the majority vote. That's why you were elected.  
Rule #4: “Go Where You're Invited.” In other words, never be afraid to open up a dialogue and discussion with the people who didn't elect you. You might learn something. This is an antidote to Rule #3.

"Liberals," "progressives," and everyone in general, should definitely pay attention to what the "other side" has to say. In a democracy, our politics is built on the diversity and differences that reflect who we are. 

You don't have to have had a six-figure salary to be able to figure that out!

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

#137 / Nothing To Hide?

Glenn Greenwald, is "an American journalist and author, best known for his role in a series of reports published by The Guardian newspaper, beginning in June 2013." These reports detailed global surveillance programs being operated by the United States and Britain, and were based on classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden

Greenwald makes a great case for privacy. You can watch his persuasive TED Talk on the subject by clicking the link I have just provided, or by watching the video I have inserted at the end of this blog posting. 

A comment by Willie Brown, in Brown's "Willie's World" column in the April 15, 2018, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, reminded of Greenwald's rather clever way of demonstrating the hypocrisy of those who take the position that privacy doesn't matter if you have "nothing to hide." See the Greenwald video from minute 2:50 to minute 5:45.

The Chronicle inserts a powerful paywall on its online offerings, so non-subscribers might not be able to view Brown's column. The headline, online, is "Facebook’s Zuckerberg smooth-talked Congress. Only 1 senator got to him." 

That Senator was Senator Dick Durbin, from Illinois, and here's what Brown reported about Durbin's dialogue with Zuckerberg: 

The only time Zuckerberg got nicked was when Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois asked the tech titan if [he] would be comfortable revealing the name of the hotel where he’d stayed the night before.

“Um, no,” Zuckerberg said after a pause.

“Would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” Durbin asked.

“Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here,” Zuckerberg said.

Then Durbin made his point: That’s exactly the sort of information people fear is being sold on Facebook.

Maybe that’s what all the fuss was about, Durbin said. “Your right to privacy. The limits of your right to privacy and how much you give away in modern America in the name of quote, connecting people around the world.”

It was a soft but effective hit that both got a big laugh in the committee room and at the same time went [to] the heart of the issue.

Durbin's challenge to Zuckerberg was not unlike the point that Greenwald makes in the video below. 

Forget about the statement that your privacy doesn't matter to you, if you have "nothing to hide." 

Our privacy matters to each one of us, even including Mark Zuckerberg, who famously claimed, several years ago, that privacy was "no longer a social norm."

There are lots of good reasons we value privacy. Let Glenn Greenwald tell you all about it:

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

#136 / Now Here's A Concept!

Vancouver, British Columbia has an "Empty Homes Tax." Click the link to find out about it. The basic concept is that a tax will be imposed on any residential property that is vacant, as a way to make housing available for real people. In Vancouver, as in my home town, Santa Cruz, California, there are a lot of "vacant" homes, because a very large number of properties have been purchased as second or third homes for the wealthy. Local working families, in the meantime, can't afford either to rent or buy.

As for the headline, I think it is undoubtedly accurate. Those with second homes must either rent them, or pay the tax. They would rather not have to do that. 

On the other hand, the Empty Homes Tax helps those caught by the kind of vicious affordable housing crisis that plagues both Santa Cruz and Vancouver. I think there is a famous song about this

Which Side Are You On?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

#135 / Financial Strip Mining

Pictured is Les Leopold, cofounder of the Labor Institute, a non-profit organization that designs research and educational programs on occupational safety and health, the environment, and economics for unions, worker centers and community organizations.

Recently, The Sun Magazine ran an interview with Leopold, titled as follows: "An Embarrassment of Riches: Les Leopold on Forty Years of Runaway Inequality."

Leopold calls what has been happening to our economy "financial strip mining." If you would like to know how that works, and how it has happened that the three wealthiest people in the United States control more wealth than the bottom fifty percent of the entire population (approximately 163 million people), you should read the interview. I don't think I have ever seen a clearer explanation of the various mechanisms that have devastated the lives of so many ordinary Americans. 

Of course, knowing what has happened, and is still happening, is only step one. As Karl Marx has so accurately observed: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."

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Monday, May 14, 2018

#134 / Customer, Client, Consumer, Community

Carina Chocano is asking, "Can people form a real 'community' when someone else is making all the rules?" The question comes from Chocano's "First Words" column in The New York Times Magazine. The hard copy version of the column is titled, "Group Think." 

One of the main points that Chocano makes is that the word "community" is now being used, in politics, to "convert huge groups of people into neat, undifferentiated units." The designation of a named "community" is now being utilized to denote what might actually be called a "segregation" of society at large into a series of separate entities. The "Black community" is really "black people;" the "Gay and Lesbian community" refers to gays and lesbians. 

Genuine community is the very opposite of such congregated categorical designations. "Community" includes everyone, across all the categories, and the key thing to realize about any community is the incredible diversity that is always present. 

Finding a way to make collective decisions in a community characterized by diversity and difference is what a healthy politics is all about. 

A healthy politics requires the exact opposite of "group think," now sometimes called "identity politics."

Think about that!

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

#133 / Another 1,000 Words Picture

There you have it. This image is from The Nature Conservancy.

Pretty much does say it all.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

#132 / Wisdom From Rosie Revere

Marissa Mayer, the former CEO of Yahoo, is "still standing, and planning the next act." This is what we learn from David Gelles in his "Corner Office" column in The New York Times

What do we learn from Mayer? Among other things, Mayer cites to a children's book, Rosie Revere, Engineer, as a source of essential wisdom. 

I have to admit that what Rosie says, is right on target: 

Life might have its failures, but this was not it. The only true failure can come if you quit.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

#131 / The Twitter Mob

The picture above illustrates an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled, "When the Twitter Mob Came for Me." The article was written by a conservative political commentator, Kevin D. Williamson, and bemoans the fact that Williamson was, as he sees it, hounded from his new job at The Atlantic by swarms of unfair and largely unjustified comments relating to one of his long ago statements that was taken out of context. He suggested (not seriously, he claims) that anyone involved in an abortion should be hanged until dead.

Another example of how an online "mob" might cause real grief, to real people, in the real world, is the story related by Jesselyn Cook, a Canadian-American journalist, who writes for HuffPost, and who seems to be of a more or less "progressive" persuasion, politically. Cook relates her experience with Facebook, not Twitter, and tells us about an online reaction to a picture, which made her look rather attractive, and an accompanying invitation to comment on whether she should be "smashed" or "passed." Cook identifies the comments made in response to this invitation (completely unprovoked by anything she said or did) as "sexual harassment." Her story is truly distressing.

If you click the links, you can get the details of both Cook's and Williamson's experiences. It appears to be pretty clear that neither Williamson nor Cook were treated fairly by the online commenters who attacked and demeaned them. Is there something we can, or should, be doing about that?

Basic tort law might well allow both Cook and Williamson successfully to sue those who harassed and demeaned them. Suing Facebook and Twitter directly, however, would not be a successful legal strategy, since such online platforms are legally shielded from liability for what persons who use these platforms say. 

The situation is analogous to the problem that you or I would have if we attempted to sue the telephone company because someone harassed us over the telephone lines. You can't successfully sue the telephone company for what someone says on the phone, and you can't sue an online service provider for what people say as they use their online service. Click right here for an outline of defamation law and social media.

While the kind of attacks that Williamson and Cook suffered are genuinely distressing, and the power of social media to amplify such personal attacks is obvious, there isn't any easy way to provide additional help for those who have been attacked online, though we do need to be working on the problem. 

An article in The New York Times on April 22, 2018, indicates the horrors that can follow when untrue and inflammatory stories are disseminated on social media. Reporters Amanda Taub and Max Fisher document how inflammatory postings on Facebook led to arson and murder in Sri Lanka, stoking fires of ethnic cleansing. As The Times headline writer put it: "Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match." A presidential adviser in Sri Lanka, commenting on the story told by Taub and Fisher, said it this way: "We don’t completely blame Facebook. The germs are ours, but Facebook is the wind, you know?”

Considering how quickly the winds of contagion and outrage can disseminate hatred online, in a way that causes real world consequences, from personal attacks to murder, this might be another good reason to live more of our lives offline.

In the real world, I mean!

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

#130 / Form 9

Yesterday, I advanced the idea that most of the time people will do what they think they are expected to do. People get a "tip" on how they should behave by looking around. They then conform their behavior to what they understand to be the social expectation. 

Of course, that doesn't always work, but it does in a lot of cases.

An article in the April 22, 2018, edition of The New York Times, entitled "What Hospitals Can Teach the Police," provides an excellent discussion of the phenomenon. I encourage you to read it. The article, about how health care facilities have learned to deal with "crazy" people, is interesting in and of itself, and police agencies should, as the article suggests, start trying to utilize similar practices.

Here is one of the stories in the article that I found particularly compelling: 

At the Boston University Medical Center, security staff members teach a kind of tactical pause to residents and fourth-year medical students who do home visits. Constance L. Packard, executive director of support services for the center, told me, “Sometimes if the patient gets too anxious we’ll teach a person to say, ‘Let me get right back to you, because I need to go get a Form 9.’ There’s no such thing as a Form 9,” Ms. Packard continued. “It’s just a way of stopping the action.”

There is no Form 9, but going to get one can be, to use an old advertising slogan, the "pause that refreshes." The agitated person calms down, as he or she waits for the arrival of that vital Form 9!

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

#129 / Heroics 101

Dr. Philip Zimbardo (pictured) is sometimes thought of as "Dr. Evil." At least, that is how the San Francisco Chronicle characterizes him in a story that ran in its April 21, 2018, edition.

Zimbardo has had a long and distinguished career as a psychologist (he has written sixty books), but he is still best known for his "Stanford Prison Experiment," carried out at my alma mater in 1971. 

If you don't know about this famous demonstration of how quickly ordinary people can be cajoled into barbarism (in other words, if you don't know anything about Hitler's Germany, or Abu Ghraib), just click the link I have provided. There is, in fact, a movie about the experiment that recreates the horror provoked by Zimbardo's role-playing exercise in the basement of Stanford's Jordan Hall

Click the link for the trailer. You'll get the idea!

The Chronicle article reports that Zimbardo has moved from the "dark side" to the "light side," in terms of his current work. He is, in fact, trying to find out how ordinary people can be turned into "heroes." In other words, since we now know that ordinary people can be turned into ruthless, sadistic killers with relatively little difficulty, could we move such ordinary people in the opposite direction?

So far, there is no documentation that any classroom exercise has been successful in converting ordinary students into replicas of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Teresa.  Nonetheless....

It is my strong belief, based on my personal experience, and not based on any scientific study, that people will usually respond to any situation in the way that they believe others expect them to respond. This powerful principle of human behavior is what motivated the students who participated in the Stanford Prison experiment to turn into sadists. I don't see any reason that the polarity of this powerful principle can't be reversed. 

A long time ago, Thomas Carlyle wrote On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. He wrote Sartor Resartus, too, which pretty much makes the point I have outlined above. 

As is true in every area of education, you don't actually need to take a college course to learn something. We can become "heroes," and inspire others in that direction, by starting to expect the best, not the worst, from ourselves and everyone we know. 

We need to do this, particularly, with those with whom we disagree, and those whom we don't like very much!! Assuming the worst about people is an almost certain guarantee we will get the worst. 

Let's try working in the opposite direction. 

Call it Heroics 101.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

#128 / Telegram

The United States government wants technology companies to provide a "backdoor" to any computer application, program, or device used in our country, to give government a guarantee that the government can always have access to everyone's data, even if a person has sought to encrypt that data, and to keep it private. 

As it turns out, the government of Russia wants exactly the same thing! In an article in the April 19, 2018, edition of The New York Times, Neil MacFarquhar reports that the Russian government went after Telegram, which has designed and marketed a popular and secure messaging application. Telegram's commitment to encryption is robust, and its corporate symbol is a paper airplane (see above).

See below for a street scene in Moscow, where demonstrators threw paper airplanes, as a protest, at the headquarters of Russia's secret police. 

It would be hard to overstate the importance of this issue. The information each one of us keeps, in digital form, on our computers and cellphones, is generally equivalent to a complete record of everything we have ever done, thought, or said. 

Even if you think you have "nothing to hide," Americans have always believed that the government can have access to our "persons, houses, papers, and effects," ONLY when we provide an affirmative consent to the government to have such access, or after a judge issues a warrant, based "upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." 

That's quoting the Fourth Amendment, if you can't quite place the language. 

Telegram, Apple, and other technology companies are trying to make it possible to provide genuine Fourth Amendment guarantees in a digital world in which this is increasingly hard to do. 

I say, hats off to Telegram and all those companies fighting for secure encryption, with no "backdoor."

It is also nice to see that people in Russia are starting to figure out what we have known for something like 240 years!

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Monday, May 7, 2018

#127 / Some Advice For Voters

Pictured is Coyote Valley, located in Santa Clara County. As I learned from the latest edition of greenfootnotes, a quarterly bulletin published by Committee For Green Foothills, Coyote Valley is being threatened by an initiative measure sponsored by developers. 

Measure B, which will be on the ballot in June 2018, bills itself as a way to provide affordable housing for seniors. The sponsors of Measure B have a specific development project in mind, which Measure B would essentially approve, if the Measure is enacted by the voters. However, the language of the initiative goes further than this single project, and would allow the conversion and residential development of any land designated for industrial or commercial uses and not yet developed. If you would like to find out more, you can click this link for an explanation of Measure B by the Committee For Green Foothills. Here is a link that would allow you to express your personal opposition to Measure B.

As I read the analysis of the Measure, which is clearly designed to sound appealing to voters, I thought of a simple rule to apply whenever a voter is confronted by an initiative measure proposing some sort of land use policy change or project approval. 

Here is the rule: if the measure is sponsored by a developer, and focuses either on a specific project, or on land use policy changes, or both (as in the case of Measure B), you can be totally assured that the aim of the Measure is not to promote the public interest, but to promote the developer's interest. 

I have had a good deal of experience with inititive measures, and I think that the formulation just outlined is correct. 

Initiative measures sponsored by developers are intended to avoid the public hearing processes that allow significant public participation to affect the decision ultimately made. Where there are any problematic aspects to a development proposal, normal land use review procedures allow elected officials, after hearing from the public, to make changes to a proposed project. Utilizing an initiative, which asks for a direct vote of the people, is, oddly enough, a tried and true way for developers to avoid genuine public scrutiny. 

Basically, here's the rule: 

If a developer proposes and qualifies an initiative measure to approve a development project or to make a land use policy change, just vote "NO."

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

#126 / "They"?

I am not a fan of horror movies, and I don't think I have actually ever watched one. I do know, however, the name of a horror movie that some believe is one of the best horror movies of all time: A Nightmare On Elm Street. Click the link to read a "best" to "worst" ranking of all nine editions of this movie. Like real nightmares sometimes do, A Nightmare On Elm Street keeps coming back. 

I began thinking about recurring nightmares (and horror movies) when I heard that there is another book out that rehashes "What Happened" during the 2016 presidential election. That election did give us a nightmare president who has a certain Freddy Krueger-like quality about him, slashing away at everything decent and good. By the way, that is Freddy pictured at the top of this blog posting. He is the main character in A Nightmare on Elm Street. At least, so I am informed. 

Repeatedly trying to figure out how we could have ended up with a horror show president does seem like a recurring nightmare to me. How could this have happened? What went wrong? Why has this become our destiny? We keep asking ourselves about the election, and we keep trying to find some way to explain it. Hillary Clinton has written a book with her explanation, and there seem to be lots of other opinions, besides. 

The latest entry in the recurring nightmare of efforts to explain the 2016 election is a book titled, Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling. This effort at explanation, by New York Times' reporter Amy Chozick, provides what Amazon calls "the real story of what happened in the 2016 election, told through the dishy, rollicking, deeply personal story of one New York Times journalist's career covering the First Woman President who wasn't."

As is so often true, I haven't read the book I am talking about, only a short summary, published in The Times and authored by Amy Chozick herself. Prominently featured in The Times' article is the following "pull quote," providing Hillary Clinton's bottom line evaluation of why she lost:

"They Were Never Going to Let Me Be President"

That pull quote headline definitely grabbed my attention. It is a great example of what makes the constant reevaluations of the 2016 election such a recurring nightmare for me. Time after time, Hillary Clinton simply refuses to "Move On," to admit that she lost the election, and that it is a lot less important to assign blame than to figure out how to go forward now.

As for this "they" who were never going to let Hillary Clinton win: what is that all about? According to former President Bill Clinton (if you credit Amy Chozick), "they" means The New York Times!

Since I haven't read the book, I can only comment on the summary. I do recommend you read the summary. 

Read it, and then pray with me that the recurring nightmare of trying to find some excuse for Hillary Clinton's loss of the election will go away forever, so we can stop rehashing the past, and start figuring out what to do now, as we face an ever more horror-inducing future.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

#125 / Breaking The Bubble

A brief article in the online magazine Aeon defines an "epistemic bubble" as "an informational network from which relevant voices have been excluded by omission." "Epistemic" is defined as "of or relating to knowledge or knowing." When we are caught inside an "epistemic bubble" we only know what is inside the bubble. Other views and contrary information are simply not available. 

It may well be that our location within an epistemic bubble is wholly inadvertent. Without any specific or active effort to exclude information that might challenge the views we already have, we end up only hearing and finding out about information that is consistent with what we already think. Because we increasingly live within a "digital world," we increasingly find ourselves inside such epistemic bubbles. We only know what the Facebook algorithm tell us, and we get the news that we have programmed into our Google alerts to receive. 

If we are trapped inside an epistemic bubble, we need to break out.  

After talking about epistemic bubbles, the Aeon article goes on to distinguish these epistemic bubbles from an "echo chamber." 

Where an epistemic bubble merely omits contrary views, an echo chamber brings its members to actively distrust outsiders. In their book, Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Frank Cappella offer a groundbreaking analysis of the phenomenon. For them, an echo chamber is something like a cult. A cult isolates its members by actively alienating them from any outside sources. Those outside are actively labelled as malignant and untrustworthy. A cult member’s trust is narrowed, aimed with laser-like focus on certain insider voices. In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined.

Whether we find ourselves in an "epistemic bubble" or an "echo chamber," we need to break out.

But how to do that? The only real way, I think, is by contact with "random" human beings, and particularly human beings with whom we can form trusting relationships, after we have met them, and talked to them for a while. By "random," I mean people who do not already come prepackaged, as either supporters or opponents, as either friends or enemies. Just "people," in the raw. 

When you think about it, our whole system of representative democracy is based on the idea that those to whom we have given the power to represent us will, inevitably, be continually meeting with their constituents and hearing from "the public."

The "public," all of us, is the ultimate repository of governmental power. We can't delegate everything to the politicians. That means that each one of us, like the politicians to whom we have officially delegated the work of representing us, must understand that we, too, need avidly to seek out "random" people, our peers in the public, to see what they think, and what they have to say. 

If we are trapped in a bubble, if we are trapped in an echo chamber, we do need to break out. We need to talk to people we don't really know.

We need to take very seriously what they think. 

We need to think, very hard, about what they say!

That's the way we break the bubble.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

#124 / DACA Gets Some Unpredicted Support

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an American immigration policy [or program] that allows some individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation. DACA allows such persons to become eligible for a work permit in the United States, but the DACA program does not provide a path to citizenship for recipients. 

The DACA policy was announced by President Barack Obama on June 15, 2012, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications for the program on August 15, 2012. Of course, this idea of being "nice" to immigrants who are all living positive and productive lives, and who are only in the country "illegally" because their parents brought them here when they were little children, runs counter to the impulses of the Republican Party, and to the predilections of our anti-immigrant president.

On April 2, 2018, President Trump declared DACA "dead," and called for expedited efforts to "secure the border," and to deport those registered in the DACA program, among others. The Heritage Foundation, one of the many right-wing think tanks that pontificate against anything ever advocated by or accomplished by President Obama, cheers this inhuman attack by the president, and has also declared the DACA program unconstitutional

Because The Wall Street Journal is usually thought of as a "conservative" newspaper, allied with the Republican Party, and because it is generally supportive of our current president, I was a bit surprised to find that The Journal may well support the DACA program. 

This revelation came in a May 1, 2018, editorial titled, "Gone With the Windrush in Britain." The meaning of this rather obscure headline will only make sense to those who have been following one of the major controversies now agitating politics in Great Britain. Here is how The Journal tells the story: 

Amber Rudd [a member of the Conservative Party] lost her job as U.K. Home Secretary this weekend amid a widening immigration scandal. Yet there’s every chance Britain’s political class—and voters—will let this crisis go to waste. 
Ms. Rudd’s resignation is the latest fallout from the Windrush scandal. For two decades starting in the late 1940s, the U.K. accepted migrants from across the Empire (later, the Commonwealth) to rebuild after World War II. Known as the “Windrush generation” because one of the first ships to bring them was the HMT Empire Windrush, hundreds of thousands and their children worked hard, paid taxes, and assimilated into U.K. society. 
A 1971 law granted these migrants permanent U.K. residence and a path to citizenship. But an unknown number either never obtained formal proof of their immigration status because they didn’t realize they needed it, or have lost the relevant paperwork. Now they’re running afoul of a 2012 law that requires employers, landlords and even hospitals to verify the immigration status of prospective tenants, employees or patients. Some face deportation.

As can be seen, Britain was, at least initially, quite a bit more welcoming to immigrants than the United States has been, since British policy provided immigrants not only with permanent residency, but also with a "path to citizenship." This is something that most Republican Members of Congress refuse to do for long-term immigrants living in the United States.

Most recently, despite past practice, Prime Minister Teresa May and the Conservative Party has explicitly promised to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, which the 2012 law mentioned by The Journal most certainly does. It seems like this sort of thing is going around!

At any rate, aggressive efforts to deport immigrants who have lived almost their entire lives in Britain, the so-called "Windrush" immigrants, and most of whom are quite elderly, has been roiling British politics. In the United States, in their opposition to DACA, our so-called "conservatives" are attempting to expel the young, not the old, but concept is just the same. "Hostility" to immigrants is the key. 

Commenting on what is happening in Britain, The Wall Street Journal makes the case that our Congress needs to find a way to give DACA participants permanent residence and a path to citizenship: 

Voters shocked by the Home Office’s mistreatment of the Windrush generation might ask what they thought would happen when they elected politicians committed to blunt numerical targets. A Sky Data poll last week found that 53% of voters support deportation quotas, but 54% believe the suffering of Windrush migrants is “not a price worth paying” to discourage illegal immigration. The teachable moment here is that Draconian immigration restrictions are, well, Draconian—a lesson that also applies to America’s debate over the Dreamers brought to the U.S. illegally as children. 
The temptation will be to view Windrush as a scandal of bureaucratic incompetence, and there’s plenty of that on display. But the bigger scandal is that pandering politicians and indecisive voters have goaded each other into immigration policies that shock the public when they come to light.

When it is really understood what the president is proposing, and how "draconian" it truly is, I would like to hope that this proposition would "shock the public." 

What can you say about a proposal to deport young people to countries about which they know little or nothing, when these young people have committed no offense, and have simply been living productive lives in the United States after having been brought here years ago by their parents? 

Deport them? Isn't this "hostility" taken many steps too far? Isn't this, truly, "shocking?" 

That's the president's program, and I think it's shocking. And it looks like it shocked The Wall Street Journal, too!

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

#123 / Ready, Fire, Aim

I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat. 

The quotation above is attributed to Will Rogers, and since I do want to talk about the Democratic Party today, it seems appropriate. 

I don't know who first came up with the rephrasing of the traditional firing squad command that I have used as a title for today's blog posting, but that rephrased command seemed appropriate for today's discussion, and very much consistent with Will Rogers' evaluation of the Democratic Party.

I am also not sure who first used the expression "a circular firing squad" to describe a rather common phenomenon. Again, the illustration above seemed appropriate for today's discussion. The online word site, Wiktionary, provides no guidance on the question of who first used the expression, but it does define the expression as follows: "Circular Firing Squad - A political party or other group experiencing considerable disarray because the members are engaging in internal disputes and mutual recrimination."

Wiktionary, please let me introduce you to my friend, Will Rogers, and to the leadership of the Democratic National Committee!

What prompts today's posting on the current state of the Democratic Party? Several things. 

First, I have been outraged at recent news reports about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DNCC), which phones my home just about every evening to see how I am doing, and to demand more money. 

In case you missed it, the DNCC has been attacking a progressive Democratic candidate for Congress, in Texas, because the DNCC has decided that she is too "progressive" to win a November runoff. Having formulated this judgment, which may or may not be correct, the DNCC has now essentially started campaigning against her, and has released information that is designed to discourage democratic voters from selecting her in the primary, and that will be used against her by her Republican Party opponent in the general election, if she wins the nomination. As a former delegate for Bernie Sanders, at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, I have been through that movie before!

Second, a Democratic member of the State Legislature recently told me how distressed he is, and how upset the Democratic Party leadership in California is, at the disarray evident in various Congressional elections now underway. A number of Republican Congress Members from California have "retired," and there is a real opportunity to convert "Red" seats to "Blue" seats this November. However, the Democrats have so many different candidates in some of these races, who defy efforts to coordinate and work together, that it seems possible that the Republican Party will be able to replace the retiring Republicans with a new set. 

Finally, and this is what really prompts this posting, a New York Times' Op-Ed, published on April 18, 2018, asks the question, "Where's the Tea Party of the Left?"

That, actually, is my question, too. As a Sanders' delegate, I saw firsthand how Democratic Party officials used what is supposed to be a "neutral" Party apparatus during the primaries to make it impossible for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination. I wrote a number of times about that experience in this blog. My experience convinced me that the Democratic Party has been captured by the same corporate interests that control the Republican Party, and that major changes were in order, so that our democratic political system could begin functioning again. 

Matt Grossman and David A. Hopkins, who authored The Times' Op-Ed, have a distinctly different perspective. They believe that the Democrats are doing great! The Democrats, they believe, have managed to damp down the kind of ideological warfare that the Tea Party Republicans have engaged in, and that's all to the good. This is not my analysis. 

A "pull quote" in the hard copy edition of the Op-Ed in The Times, says, "Democrats tend to avoid ideological battles." If that is true, and I question that, the end result may be success for the Democratic Party in November 2018 (and taking back Congress would be really good), but what is ultimately necessary is that we begin making fundamental changes in virtually every aspect of our social, political, and economic life. 

Until there is a "program" to do that, and a "party" that makes such fundamental change its platform and mission, we are only rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic (to use another great expression, as least as good as that one about the circular firing squad).

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

#122 / Just One Word Of Caution

The Santa Cruz Sentinel ran a restaurant review in its April 18, 2018, edition that should have made anyone who read the review want to hop on a bike, or hunt up the car keys, and head immediately for Humble Sea Brewing Company, located at 820 Swift Street in Santa Cruz. 

I don't drink, but I was thinking about changing my lifelong habit of abstinence after reading the Sentinel's review. Before I could put on my shoes and socks and get out the door, though, I happened to pick up the latest edition of Mother Jones, and found myself reading an article titled, "Bottled Up." The subtitle on the Mother Jones' article is: "Did Drinking Give Me Breast Cancer?" 

So ... Just one word of caution. Besides other problems associated with drinking, it appears that alcohol is a known carcinogen. 

Still ... For those who do drink alcohol, and don't intend to quit, and giving some pause to coffee drinkers like myself, it may be worthwhile knowing that coffee is potentially carcinogenic, too!

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