The Democrats and the death of SB 562

Over here in California, a considerable wave of excitement was building around SB 562, a bill that would can the current healthcare system in the state and replace it with a single-payer structure. For supporters, there was budding optimism. The current national framework created by the Affordable Care Act seems doomed, either through legislation or executive neglect. Polls indicated strong support, and though support dropped when the prospect of new taxes was raised, studies showed that implementation was probably not nearly as expensive as projected. The Democratic Party holds the governor’s office and has big majorities in both houses of the legislature. And single-payer had been passed twice during the Arnold Schwarzenegger administration.

But it died this week when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved the bill. Activists I know are, as expected, absolutely livid. Part of the anger comes from how illogical SB 562’s death was. There was the means, motive, and opportunity to change things, but that didn’t happen. Political paralysis in a one-party state.

There are two ways to look at this. The first, pretty common among lifer Democrats, is that this was a bug in the system- SB 562 should have eventually become law, and there needs to be a couple small changes to make sure the next time (whenever that is) it succeeds.

The second is that this failure is a feature of the political system. A key piece of evidence is that single-payer has gotten through the obstacles that doomed it this time around, but in a different context:

Similar bills passed the legislature fairly easily in 2006 and 2008, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. At a time when premiums were rising and there were few other proposals out there, it was an easy vote for Democrats certain of the governor’s veto.

When legislators craft bills that are guaranteed to receive a veto, what they produce is more marketing than ideology. Republicans and their endless ACA repeals passed between 2010 and the end of the Obama administration were this- political theater. In the theater, the chains of pharmaceutical and insurance influence are invisible. It tells activists that the Democratic Party can be the vehicle of progressive action, even if that never happens when cards are on the table. The California Democrats haven’t lifted a finger on higher education affordability, the housing shortage, and healthcare. The main shift since Brown took office is from purely symbolic action to milquetoast half-measures, which are passed but don’t change the trajectory of any social problems.

The failure of SB 562 will make Rendon a convenient boogeyman. There will undoubtedly be a campaign to remove him from office, or his position of power in the Assembly. It will disguise the truth: that both major parties take cash from the only groups that lose out in single-payer.

The Democratic Party feeds on the dreams of its most active members- it is the fuel that makes everything else happen. SB 562 didn’t die immediately, preserving the idea that the future is within the Party, and that the important thing is the next election. More time, more money, and what was promised will be fulfilled.

 

 

 

The practical constraints of “voting power”

A few weeks ago, I was at a union conference for shop stewards in Oakland, CA. As you might imagine, the union was 100% committed to the election season. The union had long since endorsed Hillary Clinton and the Democratic slate nationally and statewide. The “hype lady” (is there a formal term for this in fundraising?) led a chant that I found very troubling, given what else I know about this union. It goes something like this:

“Who’s got the POWER?”
“We’ve got the POWER!”
“What kind of POWER?”
“Worker POWER!”

“Who’s got the POWER?”
“We’ve got the POWER!”
“What kind of POWER? Voting POWER!”
“Voting POWER!”

Things trundle off into the weeds at the end. It feels strange to ask a room to lead in a chant about voting, given that a significant portion of the stewards (and a huge number of regular members) are not citizens and cannot vote. Some are undocumented or otherwise not on a path to citizenship. On UC San Diego campus, meetings of the union are conducted entirely in Spanish, because the custodial staff are overwhelmingly Latina immigrants.

It taps into a larger issue I’ve had with political communication this cycle in general. It presupposes citizenship. It makes voting an essential part of political participation. It’s a manifestation of privilege- non-citizens cannot vote, much like people of color cannot expect the protection of law enforcement. People like me were handed the vote at birth post-dated eighteen years.

This might seem a bit petty, but modern American unions overwhelmingly focus on electoral politics and lobbying. Non-citizens can still work campaigns, but there is an inherent two-tier system that develops. The speaker was right though- unions have worker power. What that is, and what it is used for, depends on the vision and direction of the particular union. Social justice campaigns that center participants in being a member of a community, rather than citizen or non-citizen, allow workers to use their power in a context of equality. The broader the political vision, the more inclusive it will ultimately be, and the better served its membership.

The lone woman: standing outside the UU liberal consensus

SEVERAL years ago, I attended the “morning forum” at my local UU congregation. It was a current events discussion group that started a half-hour before the first service.

It was the end of the year, and by then a standard topic was a year-end review for President Obama. There were about twenty people in the room. Most of them were Kennedy-era liberals, with some of the older participants having grown up worshipping FDR.

The facilitator had developed a detailed handout, covering each aspect of the presidency. At the end of the session, each person gave a letter grade to the President- they were tallied on an easel.

Almost everyone gave Obama either an A or B on every segment- mostly A’s. Only one woman, along with myself, gave the President a failing grade in anything. We agreed that it was absurd to view the ever-lengthening Afghanistan conflict, or his deportation-heavy immigration policy as anything other than serious, systemic issues. Income inequality was getting worse, and the ‘recovery’ in effect at the time didn’t benefit people outside the top tax bracket.

Afterwards, it felt pretty awkward. Clearly I had intruded on people’s long-held worldviews. And as outspoken as I can be, I never dissent just to be shocking. The woman who joined my mini-protest came over. She was older than me, but a bit younger than the Kennedy-era liberals. Apparently she was often the lone critical voice in the forum, and she thanked me for keeping her company. It was clear that she was uncomfortable with the situation. But a forum is supposed to be a free discussion, and her contributions were both eloquent and well-grounded.

Two things Unitarian Universalism stands for are freedom of expression and against ignorance. But I felt a narrow political consensus gripping the forum that Sunday morning. This part of the congregation was so used to defending the president from conservative attack that they were uncomfortable with a progressive critique. Yet if the critique wasn’t there, the forum would have been fine living in a world where the President could do no wrong.

I never felt this way in a religious context. Atheist, agnostic, polytheistic, Eastern, ancient, contemporary. Congregants were always open to new religious concepts, and had often moved significantly from their previous beliefs. But there wasn’t much dynamism in politics. In many places, UUs come from well-off liberal families, and have held the same basic ideology since they were children. Like I said, the older members of the forum came from Roosevelt families, and still spoke of him in godlike terms.

Unitarian Universalism is a religion. But it wears its politics on its sleeve. I’ve written that UU politics and UU ideals do not link up. The ideals call for liberation. The politics call for institutions of injustice to behave themselves.

IN 2014, a couple of years after the forum, I gave a guest sermon at the same congregation (“And in Society at Large”, the text of which you can read here). My politics here were different, and my point of critique was systemic rather than focused on one man. But the same tension emerged. After the second service, a woman stood up during announcements. She applauded me for my sermon, but then tied it into her work she was doing- opening up the local Democratic Party office ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. At no point did I mention party politics as the solution- nor do they fit in a call for economic democracy. I felt being co-opted right in front of my eyes, in front of a group of people. I personally felt humiliated that my weeks of preparation had been twisted so quickly.

Afterwards, most people gave me pretty brief, nondescript feedback- good sermon, thought-provoking, the normal. A woman came up later, around my age, and thanked me for bringing up so many things- like cooperatives, corporate greed, and the need for workers to control their lives. She also noticed the lack of tact shown by the person advertising the Democratic Party (in a house of worship, additionally).

The woman at the forum, and the woman after the sermon were different. But they had a similarity: they were the only one. The liberal bubble was large, but there were UUs who wanted better political discourse within the church. How many people stopped attending services because of the narrow politics? How many people shut up when their fellow UUs praised an administration that had been at odds with communities of color on many occasions?

If diversity is an issue, and at every congregation I’ve been to oh god it is, politics is a real, tangible issue. I often see a politics that works and makes sense, assuming you’re white and financially stable. The Black Lives Matter resolution passed at General Assembly in Portland was fraught with conflict, essentially because the act called for prison abolition. Abolition is a step too far for mainstream liberals, but for people of color living in an age of mass incarceration, it is a cause for survival. It is great to have radical ministers and congregants offering a different way forward, but I’ve seen what happens if a church doesn’t have those people.

Or if they only have one. Always standing alone.

 

San Diego Sheriff hate mail III: Media reports, department takes things “very seriously”

Following the press conference by United Against Police Terror and its allies this morning, news coverage is pouring in. The conference was followed by a perfunctory statement by the department stating that they were taking the matter of hate email coming from the Sheriff’s Department IP address “very seriously” and were conducting an internal investigation.

NBC 7 San Diego: “Sheriff’s Dept. Launches Internal Investigation After Activist Group Receives Hate Email”

From NBC 7 San Diego newscast, 9/22/15. Shows excerpt of hate mail.
From NBC 7 San Diego newscast, 9/22/15. Shows excerpt of hate mail.

The email says, in part, “The police aren’t the problem. It’s the criminals out there victimizing the real citizens of the country that are the problem.”

Much of the email is too profane to broadcast on TV or copy in an article.

Mendonça said perhaps the most troubling part of the email was where the writer described Ferguson protesters as “animals.”

“It just perpetuates that ‘lesser of a being’ (stereotype), and it highlights how much racism is still present to this day,” [Catherine] Mendonça said. “There’s still hundreds of years of racism that we still need to overcome.”

San Diego Union-Tribune: “Sheriff’s probe origin of hate email to activist group” by Pauline Repard

The email rant that referred to Ferguson, Mo. protesters as animals and said “real citizens” of the county love the police was sent Sept. 16 to the website of United Against Police Terror San Diego, its spokeswoman, Cat Mendonca said.

Mendonca held a news conference outside the sheriff’s Kearny Mesa headquarters on Tuesday to say her organization had filed a complaint with the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, which handles complaints against sheriff’s deputies.

CBS 8 News: “Sheriff’s Department Investigating Profane Email”

Jeff Olson of Socialist Alternative San Diego speaks at the press conference. 9/22/15
Jeff Olson of Socialist Alternative San Diego speaks at the press conference. 9/22/15

Protesters are calling on Sheriff Bill Gore to take action after a profane email traced back to sheriff’s headquarters was sent to an activist group critical of law enforcement policies.

Univision San Diego: Organización recibe correo amenazante y lo rastrean hasta el Departamento del Alguacil (Organization receives threatening mail tracked to the Sheriff’s Department)”

Press conference at Sheriff's Dept. 9/22/15
Press conference at Sheriff’s Dept. 9/22/15

En un comunicado de prensa señalaron que el mensaje fue recibido el miércoles 16 de septiembre con insultos, defendiendo a la policía y llamando a los protestantes de policías de Ferguson “animales”.

Mencionaron que en esta era de anonimato en internet, el recibir este tipo de correos es algo común para la organización, lo que no fue común, fue que supuestamente lo recibieron del Departamento del Alguacil.

Frontera San Diego: “Carta de odio enviada a activistas desde oficina del Alguacil” by Ana L. Gómez

A copy of the complaint filed against the Sheriff's Department by United Against Police Terror San Diego. 9/22/15
A copy of the complaint filed against the Sheriff’s Department by United Against Police Terror San Diego. 9/22/15

The Anti-Media: “Email Traced Back to San Diego Sheriff’s Shows How Cops Really Feel About Protesters” by Derrick Broze

This latest saga between police accountability activists and the police is yet another example of the divisions gripping the country. Without a doubt, individuals who threaten violence against other free humans should be held accountable. However, we should not allow ourselves to be sucked into a false paradigm of the people versus the police.

Any good-hearted police officers remaining within the ranks of the increasingly militarized local police departments should quickly leave as conscientious objectors. Only by making it clear that their intention is to support the community — not defend the state — will officers gain the support of the people. At the same time, the activists in the streets should make it clear they are against violent criminals, not misguided individuals who joined the police force in an effort to serve and protect.

We can find common ground and strengthen our bonds and unity by recognizing the way this system is dividing us along lines of race and profession, among other things. We are one and it’s time we start organizing and acting like it. Let’s not further divide ourselves. Instead, let’s work towards the harmony and unity of all people and focus our energies on our mutual enemies.

The Raw Story: “Someone in the San Diego sheriff’s office thinks police protesters are drug-addicted ‘animals'” by Travis Gettys (Sept. 24)

The San Diego sheriff’s department launched an investigation after someone sent obscenity-riddled hate mail to an activist group protesting police brutality.

But investigators soon learned, like the babysitter in the urban legend, the calls are coming from inside the house.

Mediaite coverage by Ken Meyer (has mistake- this was the county sheriff not the San Diego PD)

spokeswoman Cat Mendonca and Lt. Marco Garmo held a press conference on Tuesday where they said that an internal investigation was underway, acknowledging that the IP address did, indeed, come from their computers.

Copblock: “San Diego Activist Group Tracks Hate Mail to Sheriff’s Department” by Dylan Donnelly

This message isn’t anything new for police or the internet.  The author illustrates a common “Us vs Them” mentality among police officers that dehumanizes the people they claim to serve.  The “thin blue line” culture is intolerant of dissent, drawing a line between the “real citezens [sic]” and those not worthy of police protection, common decency, dignity or life.

Catherine Mendonca of UAPTSD said, “I really do hope that the broader discussion of why we’re a target can happen #SDSTOLENLIVES need #Justice uaptsd.org“.

Greenpeace strike: Weaponizing your own employees

Greenpeace strikers hit the road
Greenpeace strikers hit the road

I’ve been published today in the San Diego Free Press, an article that lets me get more into the left-wing background of the strike- led by two members of Socialist Alternative San Diego. The one line I’d like for everyone to meditate on. Greenpeace, like other non-profits, trains their fundraisers to be very well-spoken, persuasive, and able to sell things in a non-threatening but effective way. Well what if Greenpeace treats their workers like garbage and doesn’t give them job security? They’ve created their own worst enemy.

“But choosing to resist, they have mobilized in defense of their jobs and dignity. Non-profits beware: the persuasive skills developed by your employees can be used against you. Instead of selling Greenpeace, organizers now sell the strike against it.”

Read the full story here.

The fantasy of perfection: student suicide and the lies that cause it

There is a corridor of collective hysteria in this country. It is the stretch of land between the 101 and 280 freeways, starting in San Francisco and moving south, eventually ending when the latter turns into 680 and intersects with 101 due east of downtown San Jose.

For the billions of people who know nothing about northern California, I’ve marked the area for convenience.

A corridor in the San Francisco Peninsula that contains many high-pressure prep schools.
A corridor in the San Francisco Peninsula that contains many high-pressure prep schools.

This isn’t exact, but this post deals with places that are within two miles of either side.

The feature “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection” by Julie Scelfo in the New York Times is excellent. Halfway through, I was not at all surprised to learn that Kathryn DeWitt, the centerpiece of the story, is from this area.

Ms. DeWitt is younger than me, but we both lived through a different Gunn High School suicide cluster around the time we graduated. This is an excellent piece about the two clusters– which are very rare but happened twice at the same school within five years of each other. Student suicide is so commonplace that I’ve never had a conversation about California’s high speed rail project with someone my age without a detour into “will they build it so that kids won’t be able to jump in front of it?”

Student suicide is a classic social problem. It’s complex. There are a ton of institutions that may play a part. Norms are established about academic performance and image are difficult to change. If any part of the system is poisonous, it can undermine everything else. School, peers, parents, media, society, politics, money, sanity- all play a part in the problem, and all have to be addressed to create a real solution.

The prep school culture in the Bay Area isn’t unique. But it is unusually concentrated and reinforcing. It’s a high concentration of wealthy adults, often from immigrant backgrounds and low economic standing. Their kids are expected to make similar progress in their own lives. The high population means not one but many schools that mesh together to create a social scene where failure means weakness and worthlessness. Harker, Crystal Springs, Castilleja, Bellarmine, Pinewood, Woodside Priory, Sacred Heart. Then there’s all the larger Catholic schools; St. Francis, St. Ignatius, and so on. Then there’s the public schools like Aragon (where Ms. DeWitt went), Gunn, Palo Alto High. All the public schools have a substantial honors track that’s insular and indistinguishable from the private prep schools.

Anyone who’s not in the culture would find the whole apparatus absurd. It is, and you should.

William Deresiewicz, former Yale faculty and current polemicist against the narrowness of mind that selective schools of all levels create, points out that elite schools that fail their students when you look away from the resume-building:

Look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-year history. (“Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League“, The New Republic, July 2014)

Suicide clusters at elite high schools and universities should not be a surprise. These institutions have taken the regular level of stigma in society and piles on. Not only is mental illness stigmatized, as it is everywhere, but a million different forms of imperfection are as well. All the contributing factors to suicidal ideation are turned into overdrive. As all three of the stories I’ve linked to concur, students think they are isolated in their unhappiness. It’s a lie that’s allowed to persist. In Scelfo’s profile, it’s the college counselor who breaks through the illusion. People are messed up. There’s a culture supposedly based on intellect and critical thinking that frequently uses neither. And people are dying because of that.

Measles, and smart people with dangerous ignorance

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I’m a native Californian, having lived most of my life in Santa Clara county, then five years in adjacent San Mateo county. It is very worrying to see more cases of the measles in these two counties, knowing that despite a privileged, elitist mentality, parents in the Bay Area have completely jettisoned their sensibility when it comes to parenting.

A key truth is that few people are intelligent across the board. Ivy League kids with perfect SAT scores may have little to know practical ‘street smarts’. Environmentalists may have a grasp of the dangers of climate change, but may support quack medical remedies or get involved in religious cults. And the high rate of special exemptions for vaccination in wealthy parts of California comes from many people with advanced degrees and critical thinking skills.

With vaccines, it is not only a total lack of evidence for systemic harm, but a lack of any mechanism that would lead to harm. Vaccine hysteria lacks the very basic parts of scientific argument. It’s just blind fear in the face of overwhelming evidence that vaccines are both harmless and one of the best, simplest things we can do for our children and our society. In my own lifetime certain horrible diseases have been locally eradicated in parts of the developing world.

These decades have been marked by a rapid progress in science and medicine, and a backpedaling on its use. Vaccines, like many other things, are objects that can only be of use if humans utilize them. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of vials piling up at pharmacies and doctors’ offices. It is disappointing to see denialism, even among groups like the Unitarian Universalist church I attend, which has members who use their reason in all things except vaccines. All our intellect can be undermined by a lack of understanding and fairness on a single issue.