Thursday, April 13, 2017

 What to expect from Russia and what to expect from the USA

 What to expect from Russia and what to expect from the USA.

We should expect any government of Russia to defend its interests, especially near its own territory and for their government not to trust our government most of the time.

We should expect our government officials to feed us a very skewed and one sided version of international affairs and paint Russia as “Putin and the bad guys”. (Great name for a punk rock band?)

The reason why most Americans have a distorted view of Russia, Putin and what is going on in the Ukraine, Syria and about a dozen other places was on full display on NPR’s Morning Edition in an interview with an expert named Jon Finer.

Who the hell is Jon Finer? A former State Secretary John Kerry senior staffer back when it was the Obama administration who was busy with a number of very aggressive actions against Russia and its allies. In other words, he is one of the people responsible for creating the mess we are in with Russia and in Syria. 

Jon Finer, as interviewed by David Green, was supposedly telling us what the current Secretary of State, oil exec turned Trump official Rex Tillerson should expect from those (rascal) Russians.

First off, expert Finer talked as if the Russians were all of one mind and were categorical about everything their government might want from ours. Putin and “the Russians” are synonyms given a character of a cagey personality that is up to something making Boris and Natasha seem like the sophisticated portrayal of Eastern Europe. 

Let’s hope that Rex Tillerson, who as an oil exec knows a lot about Russia, might be more nuanced than this “objective expert” and knows that it depends very much on which Russians he talks to as to what their priorities are.

Finer gets to his worse when he starts to pigeon hole all Russians saying that they will come up with all kinds of outlandish points to obfuscate the Syria issues implying that these Russian complaints are without value because they are old or unrelated. For these two “way back then” means last year.

What did he mention as off topic or out dated in Russian-American international affairs? 

  • Cold War actions by the United States. 
  • The invasion of Iraq claiming weapons of mass destruction. 
  • US and Saudi involvement in backing armed groups in Syria. 
  • Other actions along the Russian border itself, such as overthrowing the government of the Ukraine or placing missiles in Poland claiming that they protect Europe from Iran. 
Finer’s discourse could be summed up in two words: pooh-pooh.
And Greens journalism with the two words: yuk-yuk.

They agreed that it was over the top for the Russian foreign affairs department to demand that the United States “show us the proof” about the gas attacks as if having proof before sending 80 million dollars’ worth of missiles against an air base in Syria was a trifling formality.

(This is where the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq story stops being faded old news)

Far from being outlandishly obscure arguments distracting talks from the subject at hand, these are the reasons most of the Russian government does not trust our State Department and are not willing to join the latest US government demand that the Russian government drop its decade’s old support for the current Syrian government.

It's probably good to hear one of these pseudo journalists talk to one of our pseudo experts playing down what officialdom does not want to address. It is not fake news, it is pseudo news that informs us of where our officialdom wants limit and guide public debate and what they want to talk about. In this case Finer also gave away what he does not want to talk about.

For more realistic and professional reports one should go to independent media talking with more independent analysts. 

The same morning you could find exactly that on Democracy Now. Amy Goodman talking with Allan Nairn is just as much two like-minded individuals expounding on their views as the Green-Finer show, with the exception that Allan Nairn is bringing up some of the facts that Finer finds irrelevant, such as the fact that the United States has already been bombing Syria for a while and has killed more civilians than were ever gassed.

As an admitted news junkie taking in news from several different sources in a few different languages each week, I will report that the NPR report was playing down exactly what everyone else is reporting as the main issues in play. It is frightening to see how far our mainstream press is from covering the outstanding issues and how often what we are told is simplistic and loaded with the most deadly and successful of all lies: the half-truth. 

Allan Nairn is not the best Middle East expert that Democracy Now puts on the air, nor is he meant to be. The Nairn story was meant to be an editorial interview, yet it had more news than the NPR story that claimed to be information.

A visit to the Democracy Now website would bring you to interviews with some very informed people, left right and center on our current relationship with Russia and our current involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and Afghanistan (to name the main ones with shooting right now). Listen to the whole Nairn interview for some insights to other issues such as NATO expansion and our New Right.

One interview that struck me in the past couple months was a former US ambassador who said that if any Russian leader did not oppose the eastward expansion of NATO, they would probably be overthrown. (Subject for a different blog). 

The NPR story was called “What To Expect As Tillerson Travels To Moscow”.

I doubt that we got what it promised, but we did get an idea of what to expect from Democrat and Republican officials and their domesticated press.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Two years of Brexiting begins, a long road ends

Two years of Brexiting begins, a long road ends

One of the things that is ending with Brexit may well be two speed Europe.

Two speed Europe was a concept to explain how some countries used the Euro currency and some did not and that some countries dropped border controls and some did not.  And so on, but currency and border controls were two of the big ones, maybe biggest.

Another way of explaining Two Speed Europe was: England lagged behind. 
The French and the Germans were leading the European Economic Community, as it was called before it became the European Union, and the chair was out for England to be a leader too, but England never sat down in that chair.  England was late to join, only joined halfheartedly, and now is the first to leave.
Under both ‘two speed’ and ‘Franco-German leadership’ visions of Europe our press treated membership as if there only one thing that being part of Europe meant and somehow whole nations were treated as if they were only one person. 
Of course each of these nations are way to complex, multifaceted and politically divided to begin to speak of “what England wants” or “what the Germans will do”.  That is sort of treating the United States as if we all made the decision to have Trump as our leader.  The Europeans do not do Thanksgiving dinner, but European families do have to set politics aside when they sit down to eat together.   
Different parts of British, French and German society want different things and the relative influence of different people in those three nations over the European Union is now going to evolve.
European’s as individuals support political movements that are a lot more different from each other than our semi-official two party state.  
The two year exit negotiations deadline is only one of the factors that will shape a changing Europe. 
Other large factors will be the extent of anti-EU sentiment inside other nations, the successes and failures of different sectors of the economies, the ongoing flood of political refugees and desperate economic migrants, the relationship with Russia and the results of austerity politics. 
Brexit negotiations starting does not mean it will take the full two years to complete.  It just means that official membership will end in two years at the latest.  Some things will get worked out beforehand and some negotiations will always be somewhat open.
Elections will be held soon in France and Germany.  Both will probably result in a pro EU, pro NATO center right government with Germany’s right more stable and France’s extreme right more influential. 
Spiegel, a German news magazine of reference, had an op-ed for Brexit Day that states British Prime Minister May has a five front struggle that she cannot win.  According to Markus Becker the five fronts are:
·         Brussels, meaning the social-economic divorce negotiations.  
·         Scotland, meaning a nation that decided to stay in the UK based on promise that Brexit breaks.
·         Northern Ireland, where staying part of the EU may mean reunification with the south.  
·         The British Economy, which will have many Brexit winners and losers.  
·         British Internal Politics, as there will be another election, and Labor might win.   
The front page of the leading Spanish newspaper site, EL PAÍS, was an op-ed by British writer John Carlin called Brexit: The will of the people.  On the day the UK triggers Article 50, many are wondering whether the shot will be fatal, or whether there is still hope that the patient will recover.
Between the one comment about British internal politics and the other about how the people are not a single item there is also the fact that the United Kingdom is not very democratic. 
The current Tory government was elected with only 37% of the vote. Two thirds of Britons voted against the conservatives and at the time, the conservatives were in favor of staying in the EU and lead by a different Prime Minister, David Cameron.  
The Brexit vote itself did not require a minimum voter turnout, a larger than 50% +1 majority, nor did it allow young people to vote at age 16, as the Scottish independance referendum did. 
With Scotland and Northern Ireland voting in a decisive majority for “Remain” (to stay in the EU) there is some constitutional question of if England and Wales have the right to take this move without the agreement of their “Union” partners of the United Kingdom. 
The bitterness is only made worse because the Brexit vote comes so soon after the Scottish national referendum where it is fair to say that Scotts voted to stay in the UK in large part because if they didn’t, they were threatened with exile from the European Union.  No wonder the Scottish government has asked to hold another referendum and no wonder that the London government, representing only a third of Britons, made up an excuse to turn them down.  That excuse was the need for “unity during these important negotiations” the Scotts have voted twice to never have. 

The President of France will be elected by a majority vote in a runoff between the top two placing candidates in the first round to be held on April 23rd. The Chancellor of Germany will be elected by the Bundestag, where all political parties with more than 5% of the national vote, or the plurality of the vote in a district are represented.  The leaders of most nations of Europe, and the commissioners of the European Union will all have a much more legitimate mandate than Prime Minister Theresa May as we go through these Brexit talks.  Despite that, there will be very little chance of the UK undergoing any constitutional reform at the same time as they are working out a new trade deal.  If the UK held its next election following the Brexit under representative rules, which would be an unexpected surprise. 
Which part of the UK economy benefits from Europe and which needed to not be “all in”?
The first place to look would be the Euro.  Why did some in the UK so adamantly fight to keep a separate currency?  The UK equivalent of Wall Street is “The City” and it lead the part of the British economy that is more international, focused on banking, insurance, investing, shipping and commodities trade. Like our US “investment sector” there are parts of the UK economy that thrives despite high unemployment, loss of industrial jobs and agricultural subsidies. 

That the UK international investment sector needs an independent Pound Sterling seems obvious, but there are probably some exceptions to that. Some of the big firms are now setting up satellite companies on the continent, especially in Paris.  Some of that investing was making good use of EU membership, but that may be easily fixed for the stockholders.
The Brexit negotiations are getting media attention for two major issues. 
First is the three million odd EU citizens living in the UK and the only slightly less number of British citizens living the European Union life in Spain, Ireland and scattered around the other 27 EU states.  Brussels has made resolving this issue their perquisite that needs to be agreed before even starting on the second major issue: Trade. 
EU membership means (for the UK meant) free movement of people, goods and services around the member states under EU standards, but basically tariff free. 
So now Prime Minister May is asking to have controls over immigration and still have open trade with the EU on a bilateral basis.  Sort of a deal where they keep the Poles out, but still get to send their sheep to France.  Brussels has said that if Britton wants to have free trade, there needs to be free movement of labor. That is what we members of the public are called in economic trade negotiations: ‘labor’. 
On the other side of the channel, different groups feel differently about UK membership with some being happy to see an end to Anglo-Saxon capitalist sociopathy, others who will miss it and all kinds of different reactions to the economic changes including wanting to trade their own goods in the absence of English competition.  We should expect a lot of talk about free movement of the people and a lot of back room dealings that are less friendly to the free movement of goods and services. 
The UK has ironically now put forward the incorporation of EU rules into British law “for the transition” so that they can have the stability of the EU regulations that they are supposedly now ‘freeing’ themselves from. 
So, if they want to keep some, or most of the foreign workers, keep their own ‘labor’ moving freely inside the other 27, want to keep selling their sheep and Rovers to France, then why Brexit? 
There has been an anti-European drumbeat in the UK ever since De Gaul and Adenauer broke with Franco-German historic antagonism at a time when the rubble of the Second World War had not yet been all picked up. 
That discourse has been strong in the British press, much of which is tabloid and sensationalist, in a tone that was at times anti-German, anti-French or anti-social-welfare-state, or all of the above.  The two political parties that benefit from forming governments with a majority of the seats with a minority of the votes also chimed in with cheap critiques of proportional representation pointing shallow ridicule at Italy.  This has been part of British chauvinism in popular culture for so long, much of the British public does not doubt the truth of it. 
In British popular culture France is a failed state with a failed economy, Italy is an unstable nation, both are failed military powers, and the social contract ideas of German and other continental governments are some kind of oppressive poverty akin to England’s own housing projects that they call “housing estates”.  This same kind of reporting would have one believe that the Eurozone and the continental open boarders are some kind of failure.  Thought-out these reports that pass for journalism there has been an aftertaste of disparaging characterization of whole nations and of course a sense of British superiority. 
We Americans can compare the UK media ‘discussing’ Europe to our own media on the subject of Canadian health care or anything related to Mexico.  We can also see British chauvinism as a cousin of American Exceptionalism. 
Fortunately there are many people in the US and UK who do not drink the Kool-Aide.
But many do.  In the UK our Donald Trump has a kindred spirit in the person of Boris Johnson.   He was almost Prime Minister, but instead stepped aside for May, who appointed him to hold the foreign affairs portfolio called Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.  This guy has been something of a belligerent buffoon in British politics for a while.  He served as the anti-everything-progressive Mayor of London who never saw any private property rights he did not want to “unleashed”.  During the ‘Leave’ campaign he ran around with a bus spouting off whopping lies about how much money the EU was costing National Health every day and describing the EU regulations as coming down from ‘faceless bureaucrats’ in Brussels who he made sound post Nazi and post Soviet.  Like The Donald he comes from the wealth of elite to which he adds title and privilege (and a long string of names) of the old British class system.  He is part of the privileged elite that former Prime Minister David Cameron belonged to. He even has funny looking blond hair. 
So the May administration has a Trump like character at foreign affairs.  This is the guy who leads the new relationship with Europe. 
The UK had nuttier, further right wing extremists than the ‘Eurosceptic’ right wing Tories.  The main group today is UKIP, the UK Independence Party, who led the main part of the ‘Leave’ campaign.  They also score high in national elections, but the unfair voting system keeps them out of parliament for the most part.  Ironically, UKIP is a large part of the UK delegation to the European Parliament, which is elected more democratically. 
UKIP has been playing the anti-immigration card and flirted with the British harder right, once represented by a National Front and now splintered into some smaller group for whom UKIP is too moderate.  This is a smaller fringe, but let’s remember that the UK is one of the original homes of the right wing skinhead movement, part of which had a history of violence against visible minorities when they were called ‘Paki-bashers’.  Not too long ago this faction would have been vehemently anti-Irish.  An American white nationalist, militia member, clan member or border Minuteman could find friends in the UK. (Some do and some minimal relationships between these groups exists)
Back in the mainstream, there has been a lot of opportunism.  Different groups had an interest in feeding enough of this chauvinism and xenophobia to carve out a special deal for themselves.  The existence of a Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party along with an even more anti-Europe fringe made it easier for special deals to be cut for the UK, which has Europe’s largest banks, some of the largest productive economy, free access to the European market for everything from sheep to North Sea Oil and Western Europe’s largest military. 
Two speed Europe has been good for the UK. 
So, in order to win an election, David Cameron promised to hold a referendum on leaving the EU that he never expected to lose.  There has been no move to hold that vote over again even when there was some constitutional justification, so the UK elites do not seem to be upset about the outcome enough to do something about this.  So maybe they find that they can cut their own deal and continue to be in Europe on their own terms.    
How badly this will hurt the people of the UK is still to be seen. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A little election in Germany with big meaning

A little election in Germany with big meaning
Saarland Germany election results:
all left parties down, all right wing parties up.
Saarland is a small Land along the French border.
The next Saarland Landtag (something like a state assembly) probably will be a continuation of the current Christian Democrat - Social Democrat coalition. 
This is probably a good indication on how the national vote will go and what this means is that Merkel will probably be reelected, possibly with a larger vote and probably with the same national coalition with the Social Democrats as junior partner.  This is the status quo in Saarland and what Germany has for a government coalition nationally. 
The loss on the left hit the alternative left more than the Social Democrats.
Greens, Left Party and Social Democrats all went down a few votes.  The Social Democrats have the same amount of seats and about 30% of the popular vote.  The Left Party lost two seats and went down from 16 to 13 percent of votes cast. 
With  a combined 43% of the vote the Left Party and the Social Democrats are in no condition to form a government after much speculation that they would form a “Red-Red” government, or maybe a Red-Red-Green” majority.
For both “red” parties the loss was severe. 
The Social Democrats were supposed to be on an upswing with a dynamic woman candidate for Saarland leader and Martin Schulz, the new national Chancellor candidate and party leader. Both were considered to be offering new enthusiasm and leadership, and to go down half a percent in Saarland has to be seen as them both failing. 
The Left Party was also supposed to be on an upswing providing dynamic leadership on the left away from the establishment Social Democrats, akin to the new Labor leadership in the UK, Podemos in Spain and something of a kindred spirit to our own Bernie Sanders. 
Instead of picking up votes, the Left Party dropped three percent and that is despite the historic and legendary leadership of Oskar Lafontaine who helped found the Left Party after splitting away from the Social Democrats having been their former national leader and the former head of the government of Saarland.  This may be the end of Lafontaine’s decades long career and will be a major hit on the Left Party credibility nationally, especially as an alternative to the far right. 
In the case of the Greens, a one percent drop was enough to go under the 5% needed to have proportional seats, so they will not be represented with their current 4%. 
The Pirate Party basically disappeared having had 7% in the last Landtag.  Their vote this time was less than 1% and they too will not be in the new assembly.  I’m counting the Pirate Party as something of a protest, popular group, which is debatable, but it is important that this protest seems to be over. 
The move to the right was split into three parts:
1 status quo 2 extreme right 3 moderate right
Merkel’s Christian Democrats jumped up five points to just over 40% vote share. 
Further to the right, the “Alliance for Germany” qualifies for proportional representation with 6% of the ballots on the first time that they run at this Land level.  They have had other success at the local level along the same lines, including in Merkel’s home Land in the former East Germany.  This is the group most akin to the US Tea Party, the National Front with Le Pen in France or the UKIP who pushed for the Brexit. 
We should expect the German extreme right to become part of the next national Bundestag, which is a proportionally representative house akin to our House of Representatives with the major exception that they choose the head of government, the Chancellor, who is currently Angela Merkel. 
And Merkel will NEVER form a government together with the anti-foreign, ultra nationalist Alliance for Germany.  German history will not allow for that.  She will not allow for that having a sense of history and a personal commitment to civil rights after growing up under the East German Stasi police state. 
The Free Democrats (sometimes translated as the “Liberals”) did not qualify for seats with only 3% of the vote, but that is two percent more than last time.  They are the older, more traditional “other” center right party in Germany and have served in many coalition governments locally and federally, most often with the Christian Democrats. 
The Free Democrats would be Merkel’s preference for a coalition government, but they are not meeting the 5% benchmark needed to win seats and in Saarland they will have nothing to offer in their next legislature. 
That puts the Social Christians back in bed with their friends and rivals the Social Democrats with neither of them having anywhere else to go or anyone else that they can form a government with. 
These are all small changes in the vote patterns, especially when compared to France or Spain, but they are clearly a small shift towards a center right who is currently in power and by all indications will continue to stay in power. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Public health should guide us talking about health insurance.

Are we talking about the people’s health anywhere inside all this noise about health insurance? 
Seems all we really hear about is the money with snipes about how unfair it is for …
well different folk have different ideas of unfair.
I am not even sure we talk that much about the actual health care. 
This market based fiasco we have does not deserve the name “health care system” because we don’t have one.  We have a financial sector of medical businesses. 
Talk about a health care system might start with something like making sure we have good places to be born and to die.  In my mind both would be something like a garden with space for the families of those involved.  A health care system would include a local health clinic system.  Somewhere local where you can get your vaccines, do your checkups, be told to exercise more and eat healthier, get stitches in or out or have something looked at in case it is something worse.  Somewhere spacious, accessible, welcoming and accommodating like a library. 
How about first level health care somewhere where you talk to a neighbor who knows your name?
That would be a start for health care that we mostly have not yet made.
The first step towards becoming a healthy people is to be clear that we are not in good shape now.
Taking a look at the leading causes of death in our country, the top lists in most categories are dominated by our ability (and probably willingness) to harm ourselves and others.  We do a lot of unsafe things in our cars, in our homes and in our habits.  We seem to be good at eating poorly, driving unsafely, killing ourselves and others, neglecting our bodies and staying overweight and unfit.  The list of what kills us is very similar to the list of woes for the living. 
I would like to move this item up from the bottom and least discussed part of our health debates. 
Above health care.
Above health insurance.
Focusing on a vision of a healthier nation with our mix of peoples, we can come to a vision on how to provide it and finally how to pay for it. 
It is everyone’s job to take care of everyone else. 
A healthy society takes care of its own. 
We may not know why we are such a violent people, but we know that we are, and in many cases we know what to do about it.  We know how to intervene.  We know how to show compassion.  We know how to practice contrition, remorse, compassion and restitution. 
From road rage to domestic abuse, there are a whole number of aggressive, angry behaviors we have come to consider normal and shrug off.  When the nation to the north of us only has a tenth of our violent crime problems and the one to the south of us has to have a major drug war to inch past us in murder statistics we should not be so self-confidant.  We should be embarrassed. 
Ours is the house in the neighborhood with the scandalous fights in the night. 
We can deal with the food and exercise problems too.  There is no mystery here.  There is precedent in how we knocked down cigarette consumption where we educated the public, set a new social tone of acceptability and shut down tobacco’s massive advertising machine. Fast food needs to be next. 
What would it take to send all of our kids to schools where they were in a calm, supportive environment that welcomed them all and provided for them all?  It would take more resources.  It would especially require more people and money in the schools that are the least calm, supportive, welcoming and able to provide for each and every child. 
There are many places where vicious circles of unhealthiness can be broken and the schools are one of the best of them. 
All of this has been said so many times that it is hard not to say it with examples and contrasts at every point, as part of our never ending harsh lecturing that we arrogantly call the “health care debate”. 
Our public health, like many of our public schools, are a disappointment and a cause for humility. 
In all of our communities we have all kinds of people working hard on getting us to take better care of ourselves and each other in every way imaginable.
There is no doubt that the ethics, will and knowledge for a healthy country is here already.
The dominant trend in our society is going the other way towards short sighted sociopathic unwillingness to help others and to accommodate our differences. 
There are a lot of complicated reasons why this is the dominating group and why we don’t practice the solidarity needed for a healthy population, with an appropriate health care system paid for in some fair and reliable way. 
Most of those reasons have to do with money. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump does not represent us

Trump does not represent us because our US elections do not represent the will of the people.

The election of Donald Trump does not represent some kind of change in the basic structure. 

When talking about our elections, it only makes sense to talk about them in the big picture of the legal and social environment they occurs in.  No US election takes place outside of the basic parameters of our system, which includes official and semiofficial practices.

We are a republic of the dollar bill.  The campaign fund raising, lobbyist catering, paid political advertising paradigm is the prevailing practice from Oakland School Board, to The Donald’s manipulation of his ratings to get free air time.  Our new senator will have a dollar per day target, as will every senator you like and every one you hate.  Those “different” views will be crossing the street to dial for dollars every day. 

More than the monopoly of our two semiofficial political parties, this auction of the candidates directly to the affluent classes pre selects who we ever see on the ballot.

Most Americans know this, overtly or just emotionally and hold a low view of politicians partly based on it. Most Americans usually don’t vote.  Abstention got more adherents that Hillary or Donald, as it usually does.  Abstention won every seat in Oakland in 2016. 

And vote for what?  Ask a voter who they will vote for and you will usually get some kind of strategy influenced answer.  The voting public and the non-voting public have both been convinced that certain people CAN NOT WIN and the public voting results bear that out beyond anything a self-fulfilling prophesy could account for.  We do not vote our values.  We do not vote our beliefs. We vote for the person we think can win that will do us some personal good, or maybe some social benefit. 

Or we vote against the bogeyman.  Each election has escalated the bogeyman factor of the opponent for each voting group.  For many of Americans the evil end of the world was back in 2008 and they called him “not their president” and for many of us it ended in November. 

Our elections as a universal suffrage democratic expression of the people’s will never began. It cannot have ended. 

Our elections are a business, run by the professional vote marketing agencies who are not advocates of any ideology, not advocates of democracy, but just advocates of their candidate winning the game of a majority of the limited number of votes cast.  If that means getting the other side to vote less, fine.  If that means being loose with the truth fine.  More than anything that means what it means in the rest of our advertising world: brand image and market share. 

More officially, we have not made many of the reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth century, so we cannot claim that we respect the popular vote.

Much is made about the popular vote, minus abstentions, when discussing the Electoral College by those same Democrats who had nothing to say about this when we got two minority vote presidencies of Bill Clinton.  Would it be so hard to use the popular vote and hold a run off, as many nations do? 

Nothing is said about the popular vote selecting the House of Representatives which is majority Republican because they gerrymandered the Democrats majority of votes into a minority of seats.  Why doesn't the press talk about this?  Is gerrymandering so sacred that it cannot be mentioned?

When the Democrats talk about what they are going to do during Trump 1 do they say much about the moral authority of representing the majority of the people?  Is that throwing too many stones around the glass house that allows both groups to keep their share of the pie and keep the monopoly of the franchise between them? 

This is the same press that is owned by the same media that sells the political class that obscene amount of advertising space every two years.  I don't know a lot of businesses where it is OK to bad mouth clients, especially big, influential clients. 

Certainly nothing is said among our experts about the alternative of proportional representation.  It would not be so hard to elect the House based on percentages of popular votes by party.  But that would break the calculation of who can win.  If you knew that the percentage of your votes for a minority party would elect that same percentage of seats into the house, would you feel so forced to vote for an official party? 

It could even be that if we made all the votes count, more people would vote. 

As upsetting as the election of Donald Trump might be, it is not really accurate to say that he represents us, or even a narrow half of us.  A narrow half of us did not feel that voting mattered enough to do it.  Maybe they are right. 

Donald Trump does not represent the American people because none of our government can legitimately make that claim. 

Post election thank you to the people of Oakland

Hello to All,
Don personally extends his gratitude to the people of North Oakland for their support, positive engagement and their votes.
The job of making the Oakland public schools better continues.  We hope that our campaign is a part of making sure that the discussion includes more options at local schools and more practical and vocational education as part of what all students are offered.

The OUSD elections may be over, but the campaign to improve our city's public schools is never over.  Thus, Don and his campaign coordinators wish to send out to you, especially if you missed his Election Night Party, this brief note telling you how much they are grateful for your support.  THANK YOU!
Bottom-line is that we hit the pavement, and got our message out, and enlarged our base of supporters.  Consequently, many more District One voters are now aware of the unprecedented influx of spending in our school board races by multi-millionaire charter school lobbyists and organizations which have supported the proliferation of unaccountable charter schools in the district, to the detriment of the public schools.

Moreover, new volunteers and new members flocked to Don’s campaign to fight for the re-establishment of whole, healthy, greener, neighborhood schools for all the city’s children.  We will be working hard to help a new generation take up the leadership of our city.  The people who helped our campaign have a lot to offer all of us and we welcome them and their new ideas.

So the fight will go on, and, as soon as we all have caught up on that sleep we have been craving for, we shall collectively begin to reflect on how we can improve, grow our strength and influence, plan for the next election, and put a great school in each and every Oakland neighborhood.

Don will stay involved personally and will look for ways to contribute as a writer, a vocational teacher and as a supporter of candidates to come. 
The website and email will soon be shut down.  You may contact him at in the future.

              Yours in Solidarity,

                  Don Macleay
                  Vicente Cruz
                  Dale Baum
                  Kyle Hudson
                  Brett Dixon
                  Chris Specker

Friday, August 12, 2016

When the “Criminal” Hides Behind “Not Perfect”

Ask public officials in Oakland what their accomplishments are, and you will get a rapid fire list of Soviet-style awards and merit badges.  The problem issues will be articulated and the buzzwords for the “known to work” solutions will get named.  Something they have done will associate their names to “good work” with little discussion of how ineffective the institutions, programs, and non-profits are when looking at the big picture. 

Point this out and you will get the latest cliché on auto play:
“We can’t let the ‘perfect’ hold up the ‘good.” 
But maybe more often, the “not perfect” is really something “criminal”. 
Crime number one in the Oakland Unified School District is to have so many kids not finishing high school. 
Want to find these kids? You are guaranteed to find at least one of them a day at the courthouse, entering the revolving door of our failed prison and parole system.  Not finishing high school was only part of the trap opening up for them. Prison and becoming a convicted felon is this trap snapping shut. 
“Not perfect”?  Well, I can see why a careerist politician would want to call it this. 
Back in the real world, where we are prying numbers out of a system that does not want to provide them and does not want to count the dropout kids on their books as failures, we find about half of the Oakland youth who should have a high school degree, don’t have one.  This non-graduate half  is overwhelmingly black and brown youth who are overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged and are on track to have trouble finding good work. Our own OUSD Superintendent tells us that most of them will eventually find themselves arrested. 
What I do not see is the urgency, the sense of emergency, the will to do something at the level that might really make a significant difference.  Every year we totally fail hundreds of our young people who will have trouble finding a job and no trouble finding their way to a jail cell. 
And what do we hear?  Oh, the test scores are “most improved” and our graduation rate is, if not counting the dropouts, up a few percentage points.  And what about the school-to-prison pipeline?  The same crowd wants some kind of “perfect” solution with a lot of expensive and complicated planning to do something major.
The OUSD should declare the situation to be an emergency, transfer lots of people to the task of getting these young people back in school, and accept that such an effort will not be perfect.  What more of an emergency do we need?  Some of these kids will die in street violence, most will get involved in crime, and all will enter the job market with a strike against them.  If we had to close all kinds of administration offices for a couple months and go visit every family affected, it would be worth it. 
Seems we are selective about what is called “good enough”.  What is being done now about the failure to stem the dropout rate does not rise to the occasion in my book.  The dropout rate is a crime hiding behind “not perfect” and this crime has some siblings. 
There is, first and foremost, the high crime of making school a boring, if not somewhat oppressive, institution with a drudgery of desk work with a misplaced focus on standardized tests and test taking. When coupled with a neglect of the other aspects of school, public education becomes an irrelevant and negative part of being young. 
Where did we get the idea that school should not be fun?  Where did we get the idea that by making it possible for all kids to have a chance at college, no kid will get a chance at learning technical skills or Spanish, not to mention learning how our government works, how to apply for a job, how to type, how to use a computer, how to fix a computer, how to drive a car, how to fix a car, how to insure a car, how to get an ID, how to file taxes, how to open a bank account, how to rent an apartment, how to check a circuit breaker, what to do in case of an earthquake, and?, and?, and? 
Maybe if school offered more of the things related directly to our real lives, young people might find it useful to study them?  In point of fact, after-school programs that offer projects for the young people to make their own are shown to have improved student participation and lowered dropout rates.  In short, fixing the irrelevant school curriculum problem is part of solving the dropout problem. 
It is a crime to call the death of non “core academic” programming just “too bad” and “not perfect” while we spend so much money on test giving, administrative costs, and doubtful building projects. 
It is also a crime to overcrowd the classrooms.  More than any other aspect of our public schools, classroom oversize and lack of stable, trained, and sufficient support staff makes day-to-day school a lot less than it ought to be for our students and teachers. 
Classroom overcrowding is sluffed off as “well, not perfect” and then we go on as though somehow it is acceptable, or even workable.  Then we start looking at how to judge teachers and whole schools, often using only those test scores, while crippling them with an impossible situation of over twenty-five students per class.  Here is another emergency needing to be declared.  We are in a long-term budget crisis caused by Proposition 13.  Then what is our crisis plan?  Maybe it is the administration that needs to have staff cuts and we should transfer those folks to on-site school jobs?  If we are saddled with a long-term budget crisis, let’s at least choose which crisis to have and where to have it. 
Classroom overcrowding subtracts time and resources from the students who need extra help the most, and often causes students who do not have a crisis to get lost between the cracks. 
The last crime I will work on today is the crime of shutting down adult education before we had a new system to replace it.  This is a the crime of destroying decades of public investment in a system that served thousands of residents.  This crime was committed because "reality" was a short term budget problem that was solved by doing a long term damage to our educational systems.  Where do people do their high school equivalency prep?  Where do they learn English?  Where do they finish up their diplomas if they did not graduate?  Other districts, if at all.  For the most part, not at all.  The OUSD voted to throw those programs and people to the winds and just take the money. 
I don't even see the "good" in trading long term damage for hand to mouth, short term budgeting, but I say a crime was committed against our community when adult ed was killed in 2010. 
What do we do otherwise? 
I’m not sure what the downside of slashing administrative costs to build back up staff at the schools would be, but I am willing to risk the experiment.  To keep on as though “business as usual” is tolerably good, albeit admittedly “not perfect,” is to accept the unacceptable.