Fair & Balanced

Babylon 5 has a season one episode in which there is a labor conflict. Unlike most episodes where conflicts are presented as having two valid sides, this episode unambiguously displays the bosses as dishonest, vicious, and unwilling to place the health, safety, schedule, and prosperity of the workers over their own budgetary desires and political agendas. The workers are shown as righteous even when breaking the law or using violence against strikebreakers. I kept waiting for the episode to take a mis-step in the minefield, and it did not.

It may be watched legally and freely here:

https://www.go90.com/videos/2QUyofVYCFq

Liberals & The Left: an annoyed rant from somewhere between the two.

I had a very long discussion today with a guy calling for all protesters to pre-emptively disavow antifa groups and call for their arrest. He thought, despite me repeatedly explicitly saying otherwise, that I was on the same point of the leftward spectrum as such groups. I finally get things explained so that he understands the definition of the word solidarity, that he understands that calling the police on any group makes potential allies who belong to marginalized groups that have been unfairly targeted by the police not trust you (i.e., now your protest group is exclusively middle class white cis and straight & ain’t nobody taking your calls), that antifa groups have a long history of both violent and nonviolent resistance to fascist and white supremacist elements which have largely remained invisible to society because they don’t want antifa to stomp on them when they become visible (see: Nazi skinheads in the Twin Cities), that black bloc groups focus and divert police attention & often prevent mass arrests of peaceful or unprepared protest groups, & that one thing every antifa, anarchist, or black bloc comrade of mine respects is praxis, and that if you can engage sincerely with such groups & find a more effective means of accomplishing their goals than the methods he dislikes, they’ll probably change, but if they don’t it’s because their methods got results when nobody else was even trying – I explain all that. He sounds like he gets it.


He says if I know anyone who’s in such a group he’d like to speak to them & learn more, do that honest engagement thing I was talking about. I say great. I can ask some folks, try to put him in touch, but here’s the thing:


before anyone’s gonna take him seriously, before I can ask them to speak to him, he needs to first publicly retract his very public call to have them denounced and arrested.


Crickets.


I wasted an hour of my time educating his ass.

The Sweden Thing [CW: discussion of sexual assault statistics].

If, like me, your blog feeds, social media, and google news searches lean left, you’re probably seeing a lot of mockery of Donald Trump making up a terror attack in Sweden, and absolutely no explanation of why he might do such a thing.

The following is not in any way intended as a defense of Donald Trump.  But because I have a few friends on the rightward side of things, I am conscious of the fact that they are seeing very different coverage of the same event, and I’d like to clarify, as best I can, what that coverage is, so that in upcoming conversations we’re all on the same page.

Donald Trump talked about Sweden taking in more refugees than the rest of Europe (which, as far as I can tell, is absolutely true), and how it’s absolutely terrible what’s been happening over there.

This does not seem to be a reference to a terror attack, but rather, a Fox News story which seems to have reiterated the general points of a study which suggested that Sweden is now the “Rape Capital[sic] of Europe.”

Now.  This story appears to have been broadly debunked, but it does appear that Trump was never referencing a terror attack and was in fact referring to a news story which had aired in the last few days.  Any source claiming otherwise is making political hay, capitalizing on an opportunity for mockery, and (this is important) looking extremely foolish and disingenuous to people on the other side of the Great News Divide, who have seen numerous stories accurately report what Trump was referring to, and who are probably not aware that left-leaning news is mischaracterizing the statement.

Now. Is that statement ridiculous?  Yes.  But let’s be accurate in our ridicule.  Here’s the deal: the study, which purports to show a massive jump in the sexual assault rate in Sweden, has been debunked on many fronts.  Yet, like the infamous (and even more thoroughly debunked) study showing vaccines caused autism, it is quoted everywhere (usually without citation or attribution, making it enormously difficult to determine whether or not there was any source to the story at all).  I saw extensive verbatim quotation of the study in half a dozen news stories over the last week from conservative or middle-of-the-road outlets, and as far as I can tell, it is the sole origin of the”Rape Capital” claim.  (Note: I am more than willing to be shown I am in error, if you can find an additional or earlier source of this claim).

So, what is the truth?  In Sweden (and to a lesser extent, Denmark, it appears that people are much likelier to report sexual assault; that the police are much likelier to record reports of sexual assault, that a broader range of actions are considered assault (both legally and by individuals reporting assault), and that Sweden, unlike other countries, counts assaults by incident and not by report (in another nation, if you reported being the victim of daily abuse over a year by a single individual, that would be reported as one instance of assault. In Sweden, it would be reported as 365 assaults.).  More specifically, Sweden has only counted types of assault other than forcible intercourse as rape in the last twelve years.  This lead to a dramatic spike in reporting since 2005, as a much wider range of actions are now considered assault.

The cited study notes these debunkings – but sneers at them, rather than addressing the substance of the claims.  From what I can tell, it is, in fact, *possible* that Sweden is genuinely dealing with a dramatic upswing in sexual assaults.  But it has not been definitively shown to be the case.

For my own research, I cite Wikipedia, because it aggregates the data concisely with specific citations.  However, I searched both the primary sources as well as a number of other websites, and could find nothing except the above-linked study making any contrary  evidentiary claims.  If anyone has other sources, whether confirming or debunking any point made in this essay, I welcome any facts and/or research provided.

Let’s Make Some Law.

Many apolitical people see any engagement in politics as futile – what difference could I make?  Many see it as dirtying – it’s all about money, or all about hustle, about leverage, about coercion.  Many see even protest against bad laws as being negative – whether turbulent or discouraging, interfering with a comfortable status quo.

In Deep Canvassing, we use the power of personal connections and reciprocity to help people feel good about political engagement, to show them their voice matters and that people care about it.  Of course, this power persists only when it is true – and what’s more, visibly true.

With that in mind, in this time of incredible energy-sapping political exhaustion and despair, I want to reach out and help people feel good about becoming politically engaged by offering them a constructive route to explore the power of solidarity.

I’d like to propose a piece of legislation on the state level.  I don’t have something in mind yet – I want to hear from people (in North Dakota – but I encourage you to contact others in your state and try something similar) what problems or issues they have which might have a simple, structural fix.  Then I want to write up a proposal, spread it, and give people the contact information of their local representatives and senators.  I want to see a simple, straightforward law proposed in a grassroots way, introduced by a bipartisan coalition of state legislators in both houses, and (hopefully) passed.

I think that the results of this can only be good for both the people of this state and the smooth functioning of its government as a servant of the people’s will.

Anyone have an idea they’d like to share?

Nonviolent Protest: A violent act?

So, in the wake of recent Nazi-punchings, trashcan fires, broken windows, burning limos, and arrest-free marches (which contain some flaws we should critique), I feel the need to make a brief point about nonviolent protest.  There’s a whole discussion to be had about property damage as a border case, but I’m honestly not too interested in that distinction, even as I recognize the need for someone to parse that point.

The inherent power of nonviolent protest is the threat of violence.  Nonviolent protest is not an act in opposition of violence; it is an act implicitly backed by violence.

That is to say, what is it that makes the people in power pay attention to marches, rallies, and sit-ins?  Is it empathy?  This seems unlikely; empathy would not require mass action to be triggered.  Is it electoral math?  Not unless an election is imminent. Is it financial concern?  In some cases, yes, but not all mass protest has a clear economic implication.

The power of nonviolence comes when five hundred thousand people show up in your city.  You cannot arrest them all, you cannot contain them all.  If they choose to riot, you are powerless to stop them.  They would dictate the agenda, they would set the table.  If you employ violence against them, they are capable of disproportionate retaliation.

But they do not do these things.  They simply come and stand together, then disperse.  The powerful listen not out of respect for their tactics, but out of recognition that nonviolence was a choice they made.  If they gathered again and chose differently, there would be no stopping them.

At the same time, more people are willing to engage in nonviolent protest than in violence, which they perceive as either riskier to themselves or less ethically sound.  So the threat of potential violence is magnified.  You do not know how many of us would come next time.

Seen in this light, violent protest is not a distraction from or detraction of nonviolent efforts.  It is the period at the end of the sentence, the flourish which provides emphasis.  See how few of us are this desperate yet?  You wouldn’t like us when we’re angry.

Make no mistake when you engage in nonviolent protest.  You are, by your assembly and your numbers, threatening violence against those who do not listen to you.  Your power is derived from your ability to damage the financial interests, physical real estate, personal well-being, and judicial order of those you oppose.  Whether or not you intend to follow through on that threat is a matter for your own conscience, but peaceful assembly and solidarity are always, always, always a show of intimidation.

I support nonviolent protest.  But by making the personal choice in favor of nonviolent action, I do not disown those who choose differently.  We are in symbiosis – not always comfortable for either of us, but undeniable.

 

The Story of Faribault.

People in Faribault are worried about immigration. But you haven’t heard their stories.  Some of them – watching their roads slowly wear away to potholes and gravel, and their wages perform a similar maneuver – have heard that refugees are coming into our country at a high rate, that they receive welfare and subsidies far above what poor citizens do, that there are neighborhoods in Minneapolis where Muslim extremists patrol the streets enforcing Sharia law. They have been lied to about what is happening in their state and their community. But you know about them, at least a little.

 

What you haven’t heard is the white single father, factory worker, infuriated about the state of immigration. He says he grew up when the Hmong were being settled in Minnesota – and he can’t believe the Somalis are denied access to the programs and support that let the Hmong community adapt, integrate, and grow. He wants those same chances extended to his new neighbors now. He wants them to be given a fair shot to make a new life here and prosper.

 

You haven’t heard the story of a mother who is angry at her schools. Without proper ESL instruction, classes for all students are slowed down, worsening education for both those who speak English and those who do not. She doesn’t blame the kids who want to learn, or their parents, but the government that denies funds that benefit every child in the community, regardless of origin. She worries about bullying, too, and how ineffective teachers and officials are at finding the courage and creativity to really fight it.

 

You haven’t heard from the small business owners who admire the generosity and community spirit of immigrants and refugees, the way they crowdfund one another’s business, investing in one another’s success in a way that is all too rare in small town America today.  These businessmen wish they could rely on their white neighbors the way the Somali community relies on one another, and they wonder why they can’t. What kinds of trust and community values have we lost? Where did we forget that our neighbors’ success makes ours easier (and our failures gentler, cost divided among many hands united in labor?)

 

These stories are not the exception. These people are no more the enemy of progress than any other demographic. Analyzing what percentage of them voted one way, or did not vote at all, obscures the truth of diverse opinion, and does them the kind of injustice they would not, in fact, wish upon any of us.
We’re in this together. And there are so many people who haven’t forgotten that. It is my pride and privilege to have spoken to them, and to remind you of them.

A mini-essay on solidarity.

When we “reach out” in solidarity to others, it has to be true solidarity, which means it has to be radically inclusive to all – not only the poor, or people of color, or women, or lgbtq+, or folks with disabilities, or people who worship or believe differently than we do – all of them. Because we cannot honestly reach out to any of them if we do not reach out to all of them. We cannot ever say “I stand by you, but I don’t stand by that guy” on the basis of anything but behavior and be genuine.

We stand by those who stand by us and stand by others. When we reach out to someone and find they do not stand by a certain group, it is our job to say “this person, these people, faces so many of the same problems you do, and so many problems we do not. Just like I want to help you, I want to help them – and I need you to be as willing to help them as I am to help you both. We’re more powerful united than we are cutting each other down.”

Election Reflections I: How we got beaten on the issues.

I wasn’t in a good place to write essays this last week, either mentally or physically. As I come back (and focus mainly on networking frustrated activists and training in deep canvassing, which I consider the best tool we can use in the long term to create a blue groundswell we desperately need), I want to share the most important lessons I learned.

There are a lot of reasons we lost this one, locally (more on this later) and nationally. James Comey’s interference, voter suppression, insufficient attention to the volatility of our polling – yeah. But we lost on the issues, too. And I want to focus on why.

As someone who spoke to rural, working class white voters this season – I personally had more than 2500 such conversations, and tallied and discussed messaging notes for another 15,000 or so – the issues which won Trump the election were, in order of frequency of occurrence, immigration, free trade, and abortion.

This presents three main problems, one of which I see as totally insoluble in our current climate, the others as manageable.

First: the abortion issue could be the focus of its own essay, or its own blog, and is the thorniest and most intractable of the three. So let’s table that one for now, and simply say, in brief, that Republican voters are being grossly misled about the policy impact their votes on this issue have, and we have failed to correct the falsehoods.

Second: on the immigration issue, the problem is identical. Voters have been fed a pervasive package of lies about the threat of immigration – physically, ideologically, economically. Until we understand how to overwrite the false narrative with a more compelling truth, we will continue to lose on the immigration issue. We need, not to be quiet on this issue for fear of losing voters, but to be bold, honest, and fierce – to highlight the good we can do, the benefits of a vibrant and diverse immigrant community, the ways and reasons we choose to accept immigrants and refugees, the economic forces which exploit both American workers and illegal immigrants and which are the enemy of both, pitting them in competition to avoid facing them in solidarity.

We need true solidarity.

Third: while voters have been lied to on immigration and abortion, they have been told the truth about globalization, free trade, and the TPP. This is not a public relations fight – we need a new, responsive, proactive trade platform which will engage not only with the realities of the modern global economy upon ours on the macro scale, but how that affects individual industries, businesses, and above all workers. Of course we cannot and should not subsidize the manufacture of buggy whips – but we cannot let the buggy whip manufacturers flounder without new direction and support, either.

The simple answer to that one: the Democrats must once more truly embrace their role as the Labor party, or lose labor to the right, with all the union-busting and deregulating horrors that implies. Losing on free trade, unlike losing on immigration and abortion, is a defeat we can blame on no external or oppositional force. it was lost from within.

More on the election, and on its aftermath, as soon as I can.

 

Twenty Specific Reasons To Vote For Hillary Clinton That Have Nothing To Do With Her Opponent

For the purposes of this article, I am listing *only* specific proposed policies or pieces of legislation, and not broader goals.  That way, the details are available, and we can be sure we’re not just talking about pie-in-the-sky dreams or intentions paving the way to etc.  I am also, where possible, limiting my discussion to areas of broad bipartisan support – policies whose stance is practical, not ideological, and which would help the majority of Americans.

 

  1. Hillary’s proposed expansion of child tax credits would help raise millions of families out of poverty, lowering the tax burden on the poorest Americans who cannot, at present, qualify for the credit.
  2. Hillary’s $275 billion investment in infrastructure would not only revitalize aging roads and bridges, but create tens of thousands of construction and repair jobs, with enough work to keep employment up for years – and that investment, therefore, will also stimulate the economy.
  3. The proposed apprenticeship tax credit will help employers train young workers in skilled trades.
  4. Passing an updated version of Glass-Steagal act will help separate commercial and investment banking, forcing banking conglomerates to reorganize or downsize and helping avoid banks being too big to fail, or banks handling your money from making risky investments.
  5. Expanding the EPA’s Energy Star program will help provide consumers with information on what appliances or other purchases are most energy-efficient, allowing Americans to save on their utilities.  In its present form, this program is already estimated to save $30 billion per year.
  6. Instituting the NTSB’s pipeline safety suggestions will greatly reduce the number and quantity of leaks in oil pipelines as we transition towards better energy sources.
  7. Providing 12 weeks of Paid Family & Medical Leave, paid for by closing tax loopholes for those making over a quarter million a year, will allow workers with young children, sick family, or recovering from illness or injury to take the time they need at home without punishing small businesses by making them bear the cost.
  8. Repairing the Voting Rights Act will help reverse the current trend of youth & minority disenfranchisement.
  9. Closing the carried interest loophole, as well as the “Romney loophole” and the “Bermuda reinsurance loophole” will help reduce practices used by multimillionaires to avoid tax on hundreds of billions of dollars.  Closing these loopholes will provide revenue which can be used to fund many other programs which benefit all Americans.
  10. Lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare to 55 will help keep insurance costs down, and opening up Medicaid enrollment periods and practices to make applying for Medicaid easier will do the same.  While concern over the tax burden of Medicare and Medicaid is understandable, keeping insurance costs lower permits Americans to re-invest the money they save elsewhere in the economy.
  11. Fully funding the FDA’s Office of Generic Drugs will help provide affordable medication alternatives to everyone.
  12. Expanding Americorps membership through the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act will help young Americans find jobs and job training, serve their country, and provide affordable housing through the Habitat for Humanity program.
  13. Expanding the New Markets Tax Credit will send money to rural and low-income communities to encourage investment and business growth in those areas.
  14. Expanding SBA loan guarantee programs will likewise help small businesses start, grow, and invest.
  15. Proposing a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens’ United, a vital step in campaign finance reform.
  16. Expanding the GI Bill will help veterans find jobs or education opportunities and retrain themselves for peacetime.
  17. Allowing Pell Grants to be applied to summer classes as well as during the schoolyear will further expand education opportunities.
  18. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act will help close the wage gap and make certain all workers receive equal pay for equal work.
  19. Funding Federally Qualified Health Centers in communities across America will improve health outcomes while saving the average American $1200 a year.
  20. Investing in the ESSA programs which provide grants helping Americans teach or learn computer science will help provide a technically literate workforce who can pursue careers in programming, or simply use computers to more effectively benefit themselves.

There we go.  Twenty proposals suggested or supported by Hillary Clinton, almost all with a bipartisan support base, which will improve education, infrastructure, health care, and the economy.  The next time someone isn’t sure why Hillary Clinton is a good choice – talk to them about these issues.  And don’t take my word for it – do your research, educate yourself, argue effectively and wisely – and if I’m wrong about any of these, call me on it.  We all do better when we all do better, and I want that for us both, reader.

The Politics of Honesty.

So I am down in the Twin Cities for election season, after an electrifying week of interviews, piecework, and training on both sides of the state line. I was proud to help write for a Fargo-area candidate, and proud to help support pro-education Democrats in the Twin Cities.

But it has me thinking about messaging. Here in St. Paul, Google Maps poked me to become a Guide and post reviews of local restaurants. That was exhilerating too – a chance to praise my favorites and leave scathing denunciations of dining debacles. Because in life, it is too too rare to find the act of radical public honesty rewarding. Haven’t we all felt that? Stumping for a candidate we are lukewarm towards, defending them from just critiques because the alternative is a hellscape Gordon Ramsay could not overstate his opposition to. Fearing that if we call out a landlord for mistreating his tenants, they may be evicted because of our defense. Holding our silence to be tactful, tactical, practical.

After all, how will we be seen? What will the public sphere, beyond our control, make of us with its pitiless scrutiny and crowdsourced judgments? And so we practice the politics of appearance, packaging our words, our wardrobes, our stands and stances just so, in the service of the greatest utility. And so conscience doth make cowards of us all.

I am not ready to practice the bold politics of honesty. Traveling three hundred miles from home for three months just to make my living, I have too much to lose to incautiously share my every cynical thought, to stand for every lost cause, not knowing who would stand with me and what future I would win or lose by doing so. I want to give this work I truly love and care about my very best effort, because I believe in the goodness of it – and so, honestly, while I never lie, I sometimes fall silent, because honest speech can work against an honest cause.

But it bothers me, every time I catch myself at it. It baffles and hurts me. And I bet it bothers you, too.