November 23, 2016

Pre-Thanksgiving reflections

I left the office early today, as is usual on the day before Thanksgiving, and stopped at my mom's house on the way home to help her put the extra leaves in the dining table for the big feast tomorrow. She's getting on in years, and wrangling a heavy cherrywood table is getting to be a bit much for her, as you might expect.

She still lives in the same house where I grew up, and so stopping at Mom's house is always a small trip down memory lane. There's a stop sign on the corner that didn't used to be there, but apart from that, it's about the same now as it was when we moved into the place when I was six years old in 1972. The old Swanson place is next door, the house across the street that was owned for years by a Malibu lifeguard with an orange Porsche 911 is under new ownership, the big two-story on the cross street lost its oak tree but still has the elaborate brick stairway leading from the street to the front door, and next door to it, Mr. Edwards is still at war every afternoon with the soccer moms who park their minivans in the cul-de-sac where he lives (there's a back entrance to the elementary school there).

Maybe it's because it's autumn--I always get a bit reflective at this time of year--but I look at the leaves on the tree in front of what I still think of as the Masons' house starting to change color, and I think not of what's the same, but of what has changed. Particularly in the last couple of weeks, with the election being what it was, it's been a slog. I look around the old neighborhood, and I think of neighbors long gone, and my dad and his brothers and sisters, and my grandparents, and I imagine what they--Republicans all--would think about what is going on now. I suspect they'd be appalled, particularly at the rise of the far right. My dad's brother, whom I once heard use the word "spearchucker" in a descriptive way not applying to Olympic javelin throwers, may have held racist views, but even he would be shocked at what's going on. I'm fairly certain he didn't spend World War II in naval aviation so that people could quote Nazi propaganda in the original German and give the Hitler salute at gatherings in Washington, D.C.

And then I look at the recently announced Cabinet appointments, and the incipient kleptocracy, and the spectacle of a President-elect involving his family members with the transition and blurring the lines between the business of America and the business of his company, and I despair. I wonder what I'm doing even paying attention. The world has changed, and I have clearly not changed with it.

There's the question of voting irregularities (i.e., fraud) in certain key states (look up Outagamie County, Wisconsin if you want the details), and yet it appears the Clinton campaign, despite amassing a two-million-vote lead in the popular vote, has no intention of requesting an audit or recount. Meanwhile, our current President is focusing on a seamless transition and seemingly keeping quiet as he makes way for someone who is going to attempt to undo every bit not only of his legacy, but the achievements of the past fifty years. If the Democrats are our only hope against the devolution of our republic into a kakistocracy, God help us.

This is the position I'm starting to arrive at: it's over. There's nothing that can really be done at this point to prevent any of it; the time for prevention has passed. The best thing that can probably be done is to keep our heads down, work hard, and ignore national politics. The only help any of us can be at this point is to our friends and neighbors locally--to help them paint out the graffiti when the local mosque gets vandalized, to support local leaders who refuse to cooperate with the coming police state, and not to get distracted from the fact that the other side is trying to establish the New Normal, which is anything but.

I have no grand conclusions. The important things in the coming years will be simple ones: love your family, care for your neighbors, do your job, and if you're lucky enough to have a bit of land, work in your garden. Read books. Visit friends. Travel, if you're lucky enough to have the money to do so. Volunteer locally. If you have kids, teach them history. It will at least give them the perspective to understand what's going on around them. Have coffee, and eat pastries, and laugh when you can. Be brave if you can, and if you can't, support the ones who can. The coming years will test all of us in ways we don't yet know or understand.

May we all pass those tests.

November 10, 2016

Random post-election thoughts and advice

  • "Calexit" is idiotic. We settled the question of whether states can secede rather decisively in 1865.
  • The idea of getting the Electoral College to vote for Hillary anyway is also idiotic, and nothing more than a Democratic fantasy. Better idea: deal with reality, prepare for what's coming, organize resistance, and work for victory in 2018 and 2020.
  • If you're a member of a privileged group like I am, be there for your friends who aren't so fortunate. Don't stay quiet when racist, Islamophobic, or anti-LGBTQ things are said. Stand up for what's right. Be an ally.
  • If they come for Muslims, gays, brown people, minorities of any kind--remember the Danes in World War II who wore the yellow star so the Nazis couldn't tell who was a Jew and who wasn't. Be like them. They can't arrest everybody.
  • Be aware that the coming years will demand a lot. Relying on the Constitution to protect you is probably not a good idea. Constitutions only matter when people pay attention to them.
  • Support leaders who are willing to oppose the regime. They need to know that people are behind them.
  • Question your sources. Look for news and information from outside the United States. Compare what you read, hear and see to what your common sense tells you. It's the only way to not be tricked by the technique of the Big Lie endlessly repeated.
  • Think about where your data and email are stored. Move them someplace where they can't be easily accessed by the government, preferably someplace with strong privacy laws and an uncompromised court system. Switzerland is a good choice.
  • If you don't already have one, get a VPN. Use it consistently and at all times, on all your devices, and choose an exit point that is outside the U.S., like Canada or Switzerland.
  • Use secure and encrypted apps like Signal and Threema for sensitive communication.
  • Consider using Tor.
  • Teach your children and grandchildren about history. Let them know that this is not how things always were, and that things need not be this way forever.
  • Remember the ideals this country was founded upon. They will not die as long as they live in our memories.
  • Don't panic. All is not yet lost.

November 10, 2016

Day Two

As the sun rises on the second day after an election that is starting to be seen as a turning point in American political history, I've had some more time to collect my thoughts, and am beginning to see the outlines of how to move forward in this new America.

First, we need to acknowledge that the other side won. Whatever you think of the guy, he won according to the rules of the game. You may think that the rules were unfair, seeing as how this was the first election in God-knows-how-long without the protections of the Voting Rights Act (and you might be right about that), but you can blame the Supreme Court for that. Trump isn't responsible.

Second, there's no guarantee that a GOP Congress is going to be all that excited about working with the Trump Administration. For starters, he's going to hit a brick wall (presumably a big, beautiful wall) when it comes to introducing term limits for Congress. Guess who has to pass that bill? Yep, Congress. They're not about to limit their careers that way. Nor are they necessarily going to see eye-to-eye with him on much else--remember, he didn't get a lot of support from Congressional leaders, and they're still there. Which means his appointees aren't going to sail through confirmation hearings automatically.

Third, there's been a lot of talk about Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. And yes, maybe they siphoned away some votes that would have gone to Hillary and prevented Trump from winning, although my gut tells me that Johnson was more likely to siphon away voters from Trump.

But you know what? 46% of the country didn't even vote. When you compare the handful of Johnson and Stein voters to almost half the population, it's pretty clear where the fault lies. And when you consider that the DNC went out of its way to ensure the nomination of the most Establishment candidate possible in a year where the electorate was clearly in an anti-Establishment mood, it puts a different spin on things. If you're angry that some Bernie voters didn't come out to vote, or worse yet voted for Trump, ask yourself how you would have felt had the DNC sabotaged the Hillary campaign to ensure a Sanders candidacy. Loyalty, as they say, is earned.

Speaking purely for myself, I need a break from politics after this complete shitshow of an election. I suspect you might also. Stephen Colbert got this very, very right, speaking on election night about how it was when he (and I) were kids in the 1970s:

Politics used to be something we thought about every four years, maybe two years if you didn’t have a lot of social life. And that’s good that we didn’t think about it that much, because it left room in our lives for other things, and for other people.

There's wisdom in that. And frankly, while I acknowledge that people like me--left-leaning, progressive whites--will be needed in the years to come to help defeat what non-progressive whites inflicted on the nation, there's also wisdom in what Garrison Keillor wrote yesterday:

We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids and we Democrats can go for a long brisk walk and smell the roses.

So I don't know about you, but I've got books to read. There are things my wife would like to get done around the house. And meanwhile, there's not a single damn thing I can do about anything that happens in Washington in the next 10 weeks until Inauguration Day. Or the 10 weeks after that, for that matter.

Don't get me wrong. My politics remain what they are. But the people who voted Trump into office, and the GOP into control of Congress, need to see Trump and the Republicans for what they are--they need to see them fail. They need to experience the logical consequences of the policies the incoming administration will implement. All the Twitter posts in the world won't change their minds.

No, I'm not abandoning the cause. I'm not going to stand idly by while my neighbors are loaded into trucks and driven to the camps. But perhaps I can be forgiven for needing to recharge my batteries before the fight starts again.

And in the meantime, Garrison Keillor is right. It's all in the hands of the GOP now. There's no more hiding from responsibility. They can't blame Obama--he'll be out of office. They can't blame Harry Reid--he retired. They can't blame Bill and Hillary--she lost. The midterm elections are in two years' time, and that's exactly how long they have to prove to the American people that they actually have a plan for something, and that it will benefit the American people. Because if they can't, it will be a clear demonstration that they've never had a plan--their entire political position was based on demonizing Obama and the Clintons, and refusing to do any actual governing.

So enjoy yourself, Republicans. This is your time in the sun. You're going to have a Republican in the White House. Show us you can build up this country. I, and the rest of the country--the rest of the world--will be watching.

But for now, I need a break. I'm unfollowing anything remotely political on Twitter, and probably dialing back my online time as well. If we're going to recover from this divisive election, maybe we should spend less time staring at screens and fighting with strangers on the Internet, and more time talking to our neighbors. We might even learn something.

And maybe, just maybe, four years from now, the next Presidential election will be less insane.

I certainly hope so, for everyone's sake.

November 9, 2016

Coming to grips

It’s the morning after the night before, and there’s much that is still unclear in my mind. Nevertheless, I’ve started to form the haziest of conclusions about the election we just concluded.

Perhaps the most important one is this: the really painful thing is not the sure knowledge of what is to come in the weeks, months, and years ahead. We’re certainly in for the following:

  • Repeal of Obamacare and the end of any meaningful health insurance reform
  • Further emasculation of the Voting Rights Act
  • Multiple Supreme Court nominations that will set the course of the high court for decades to come
  • Overturning Roe v. Wade
  • Rolling back guarantees of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage
  • Further incursions into the Constitutional freedoms of all of us, especially our Muslim and Hispanic neighbors

Despite all that, those are just symptoms. The really painful thing is this:

We are not the country that I thought we were. The American people, my neighbors, family, and friends, are not the people I thought they were. The things that I was taught to value as someone who was born in the 1960s, raised in the 1970s, and came of age in the 1980s—things like equal rights, First Amendment protections, the value of truth in journalism, the idea that we are a nation of immigrants, the beauty of diversity, just to name a few—are not important to the majority. In fact, many despise those things. The white nationalists are having their day in the sun.

The most painful thing, in short, is the recognition that we are no better than anyone else, that it may not be safe to believe those things in this new America, and not knowing how, or if, we’re going to get out of the hole my fellow citizens have just dug for us all.

November 8, 2016

Final thoughts on Election Day

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The day is upon us. All of the madness and insanity that we've been witness to has led to this day.

Go vote.

More to the point, vote for Hillary Clinton. I'm not her biggest fan, but I recognize that when the dust settles tonight, either she or Donald Trump will be the next President. Voting for anyone but Hillary helps only Trump, and we can't afford that.

"But I'm in a safe blue state," you say. "I supported Bernie and I really don't want to see her in office."

Or, "I hate both of them, so I'm voting for Johnson (or Stein) instead."

Too bad. Suck it up. Do your part to keep the Republic free, and we can argue over the details throughout the Clinton Administration. Because no matter what right-wing talk radio and Paul Ryan may have told you, she's not the devil. Come back to reality while there's still a reality to come back to.

And remember that no matter what happens, the campaign for the mid-term elections begins tomorrow.

November 5, 2016

Dear Americans (Updated)

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Images created by Johan Franklin and originally posted on his Twitter feed. Reposted here with his kind permission. Danke schön!

November 3, 2016

A word to evangelical voters

In the run-up to this election, I've heard more than once from evangelical voters that they will vote for Trump for one reason: the perceived need to seat a conservative Supreme Court justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade.

I have some very, very bad news for you: that won't happen, regardless of who is elected. You've been played.

I get that you think abortion is murder. I happen to disagree, but hey, that's democracy. We disagree about stuff, and the majority rules. Yes, I know you'll say the courts imposed Roe v. Wade on the country. Guess what? That's democracy too. We wrote a constitution, gave the courts the ability to decide what is and isn't constitutional, and agreed to abide by what they decide. This is how constitutional government works, whether or not you like a particular decision.

But that's not why I'm writing today. I'm writing to tell you that the leadership of the Republican Party has no interest in actually outlawing abortion, or introducing prayer in the public schools, or anything else you might happen to care about. I say this because they've had their chance. There was a point at which they controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, during the presidency of George W. Bush, and they did absolutely nothing about such issues. Nothing. They also happened to spend like drunken sailors on leave. So much for their fiscal responsibility, too.

Folks, you've been the puppets of people whose main interest is in perpetuating the privileges of corporate America, and increasing its wealth. Since the vaunted Reagan Revolution, your bosses have gotten fabulously rich, and your pay has stagnated. The housing market fell through, some of you lost your homes, but the money all went to Wall Street, because a Republican president set it in motion. Yet somehow, by saying all the things you wanted to hear about God and abortion and gun control and Obama, they managed to keep you on board, and voting the way they wanted you to.

I get that you're angry. But you're angry at the wrong people, and about the wrong things. And even if Trump wins, you're going to be disappointed again, because a secular millionaire from New York City doesn't really give a damn what you think out there in the pews in Middle America. It's just one more con that he's running.

And meanwhile, you'll be throwing away everything that you say you believe in, voting for a lying, adulterous man who tacitly supports hatred and violence, all for the sake of one issue that they have no intention of actually addressing.

I have no illusions that this will change any minds, but I had to write it anyway, because it needs to be said and I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I didn't say it.

And I'll leave you with one last thought: this country is already becoming more secular, and the rising generations are watching you to see what you do. In years to come, how you voted in this election will be a litmus test of your morality, and you will be judged by the company you kept and the votes you cast.

Make sure you can live with the choice you make. And hope that you can justify it to your grandchildren when they ask where you stood.

October 31, 2016

The home stretch...and a warning

We're in the home stretch now. Eight days until the election.

It's been a wild ride. Just in the last week, we've seen the following:

And that's just a small slice.

Meanwhile, the polls appear to be narrowing, as is usual in the final days of a Presidential campaign. There's a good possibility that FBI Director James Comey may have tipped the balance with his ill-timed and likely illegal letter to Congress.

And there lies what's currently troubling me. When you take all of this together, it looks very much like the security establishment is actively working to favor one side--which has come to include the white-supremacist far right--over the other.

The word usually used to describe this situation is "coup."

Meanwhile, Trump doubles down on the lying, because why not? He says Hillary will let 650 million people into the country in a week (in a country that only has about 319 million to begin with), and people cheer.

This is troubling. It's becoming crystal-clear that facts no longer matter to a significant portion of the population--perhaps even to a majority. What matters to them is feeling good, hearing what they want to hear, believing what they want to believe, and dismissing anything that doesn't fit into their worldview, a worldview that's been formed by twenty years of lies on right-wing talk radio and a news network that makes no bones about being partisan.

And thanks to the spinelessness and moral flexibility of the leaders of the religious right, whose Christian witness has been eclipsed by their lust for power in this world, at least 70% of evangelical Christians intend to vote for a man who cheated on his first wife with his second wife, cheated on his second wife with his third wife, faces a trial date in November on racketeering charges, and faces one in December on charges of child rape. A thin-skinned egomaniac who threatens lawsuits at the drop of a hat. This is the man to whom they want to give the nuclear launch codes.

So much for their Christian morality.

If, as now seems possible, the people of this country elect Donald Trump as President next week, it will put paid to the myth of American exceptionalism, the lie that "it can't happen here."

And Americans will also find out, the hard way, what happens when you elect someone to office who does not respect the Constitution, who is quite possibly beholden to a foreign power, who appears to have no moral scruples whatsoever, and who is backed by the men with guns.

God help us all.

October 30, 2016

I've done my part

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Now please let this disaster of an election be over quickly.

October 21, 2016

Larry's Ballot Recommendations for November 2016

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The election is less than three weeks away, and it's that time again. Here are my ballot recommendations for the November 2016 general election, California edition.

Elective offices
Ordinarily, this would be more complex. But this is no ordinary election. This year, I will be voting a straight Democratic ticket, and recommend you do so as well. Why? Because we need to ensure a Democratic Senate that will take action on judicial nominees and others. The Republicans have proven themselves to be the party of obstruction above all, and I'm tired of it. Vote the bastards out.

Ballot propositions
Note: Ballot proposition numbering in California runs in twenty-year cycles, to avoid confusing current propositions with prior ballot propositions. This year's propositions begin with Proposition 51.

Proposition 51 - School Bonds - NO
Everybody loves schools, right? The problem is paying for them. California already has billions of dollars in educational bond debt payments every year, and this adds another half-billion a year to pay back. Governor Jerry Brown opposes this measure, and so do I. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 52 - Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program - Initiative Constitutional Amendment - YES
Ordinarily, I am opposed to state constitutional amendments via initiative. The California state constutition is already an almost-unworkable mess of amendments. However, there are exceptions, and this year there are some worthy ones, including this one. A yes vote will extend a current program that provides $3 billion in federal funding annually with no cost to California taxpayers, and prohibits the Legislature from diverting this funding to other uses. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 53 - Revenue Bonds - Initiative Constitutional Amendment - NO
At a time when California faces the need to upgrade an aging infrastructure, this would require voter approval for state projects that use more than $2 billion in state revenue bonds. Might sound good at first, but in a state prone to earthquakes, there's no exemption for natural disasters or emergencies, and ballot propositions and initiatives are a lousy way to make decisions on this kind of thing, let alone policy. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 54 - Legislature - Legislation and Proceedings - Initiative Constitutional Amendment - NO
This bill adds a host of requirements that must be met before the Legislature can vote on a bill, adding needless delays to an already-slow system. It claims to promote openness, yet all bills can currently be viewed online by anyone. It eliminates the ban on use of legislative proceedings in political campaign ads, and is being entirely bankrolled by a billionaire with a history of contributing to right-wing candidates and opposing things like an increased minimum wage and education funding. By their friends, ye shall know them. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 55 - Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare - Initiative Constitutional Amendment - YES
This is an easy one. Prop. 55 extends for another twelve years a previously-approved temporary increase in income tax on earnings over $250,000 for single filers, and over $500,000 for joint filers. It allocates this revenue to schools, community colleges, and healthcare. It allows a previously-approved temporary sales tax increase to expire. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 56 - Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement - Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute - NO
As much as I hate smoking and second-hand smoke, I'm also not a big fan of "tax the minority." If every smoker voted no, they'd still get hit with more tax, and that doesn't sit right with me. It will probably pass, but not with my help. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 57 - Criminal Sentences. Parole. Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing - Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute - YES
This allows parole consideration for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies, and authorizes the Department of Corrections to award sentence credits for good behavior, educational achievements, or rehabilitation. It will save millions by keeping the violent felons locked up, but not filling up the prisons with nonviolent offenders. We put too many people in prison already. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 58 - English Proficiency - Multilingual Education - Initiative Statute - YES
This proposition removes some outdated requirements that restrict the methods that can be used in bilingual education. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 59 - Corporations - Political Spending - Federal Constitutional Protections - Legislative Advisory Question - YES
This is a non-binding advisory measure that would recommend that California's elected officials should propose and ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that overturns the Citizens United ruling. If you believe that corporations aren't people, you should vote YES, as I intend to.

Proposition 60 - Adult Films - Condoms - Health Requirements - Initiative Statute - NO
Yes, we actually have to vote on an initiative that would mandate the use of condoms in porn. It's a badly-written measure that has managed to do the unthinkable--garner the opposition of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. That's right, it's so badly written it brought Republicans and Democrats together. Whatever you think about porn, condoms, or sex, I recommend a NO vote, and can't believe I really have to vote on this crap.

Proposition 61 - State Prescription Drug Purchases - Pricing Standards - Initiative Statute - NO
This would prohibit the state from buying any prescription drug at a price higher than the price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, except where required by federal law. The crazy thing is that it exempts a huge portion of the state's Medi-Cal (Medicaid) program, and does nothing for those with private health insurance, or those on Medicare--as much as 88% of the population all told. So why do it? And I can't shake the nagging feeling that this is also economic idiocy. We all want lower drug prices, but this seems like a bad way to do it. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 62 - Death Penalty - Initiative Statute - YES
This would ban the use of capital punishment in California. I'm a firm believer that the death penalty is barbaric and costs a ridiculous amount of money, to the extent that life imprisonment is actually cheaper. Stop the insanity and help us join the rest of the civilized world in abolishing capital punishment. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 63 - Firearms - Ammunition Sales - Initiative Statute - YES
Prop. 63 would require individuals to pass a background check and obtain Department of Justice authorization to purchase ammunition. It also puts restrictions on possession of large-capacity magazines, regulates their disposal, requires that lost/stolen firearms be reported to law enforcement, prohibits those convicted of stealing firearms from possessing firearms, and places those persons in the national criminal background check system. Screw the NRA, and vote YES.

Proposition 64 - Marijuana Legalization - Initiative Statute - YES
This is it--the ballot measure that legalizes marijuana. I'm no fan of pot. I hate the smell and I generally don't enjoy the feeling of being high on anything--I don't even drink. But our current drug laws clearly aren't working, or else the drug war would be over by now. All we've managed to do is put a lot of people in prison, mostly young black men. It's stupid. Let's stop doing the same stupid thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Legalize it, regulate it, tax it. Vote YES on Prop. 64.

Proposition 65 - Carryout Bags - Charges - Initiative Statute - NO
Read carefully: "Redirects money collected by grocery and certain other retail stores through sale of carryout bags, whenever any state law bans free distribution of a particular kind of carryout bag and mandates the sale of any other kind of carryout bag." This was placed on the ballot by a group of plastic bag companies to make sure that if plastic bags are banned, the grocery stores won't make any money from selling reusable bags. Basically, it's the plastic bag industry having a hissy fit because several localities banned single-use plastic bags, and they're pissed that we might just do it statewide. Screw 'em. Vote NO.

Proposition 66 - Death Penalty Procedures - Initiative Statute - NO
This is more suited to Texas, or maybe China, than California. It would shorten the time death penalty challenges take, ensuring that the state could execute more people more quickly. It would increase the likelihood of an innocent person being put to death. The death penalty is barbaric, and needs to be ended, not made more efficient. I wholeheartedly recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 67 - Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags - Referendum - YES
This would prohibit grocery and certain other retail stores from providing single-use plastic or paper carryout bags to customers at the point of sale. It would permit the sale of recycled paper bags and reusable bags at a minimum price of 10 cents per bag. Plastic bags are a plague that harms wildlife and increases litter. Meanwhile, people in other locations and countries have been happily using reusable bags for years--just ask a European. I recommend a YES vote.

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