Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays and some advice to non-profits. (Part 1)

In a recent interview with a non-profit organization for a social media job, I was asked what I would do with their website and social media plan. I gave them some small suggestions based on a cursory glance over their platforms, mainly regarding linking and authorship in the conversation. I stopped myself from my usual tendency to ramble on by saying, "...but I can't give away all my secrets. " After a chorus of laughter one of the fellows said something to the effect that he hoped that there isn't anyone out there who would take advantage of a situation like that. I have been thinking and to the best of my knowledge, most people in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds would jump at the chance for free advice.

In this environment of stiff competition over even the smallest of jobs our information and knowledge-base are factors in what sets us apart. Our information is in essence, a great resource for us. It is valuable. As one who has worked on both sides of government; the governing and the lobbying, and as one who has developed campaign strategies and outreach efforts for all sorts of campaigns, I would like to think my knowledge has value and is a huge resource for me.

While I am not Christian, I still get moved by the concept behind the Christmas spirit and the "reason for the season." From watching "White Christmas," "Trading Places," "Scrooged" and "It's a Wonderful Life," I feel like sharing a bit of my resources and giving a few tips and tricks to those who care to read. Who knows, may turn it into a monthly thing.

The first thing that needs to be understood here is that social media is good. It can help you and is nothing to be afraid of. There are far too many organizations out there that are afraid that by engaging in social media, they will have no control over what is being said. What most of these organizations forget is that they currently have no control over what is being said. By not engaging in the medium, they are not engaging in the conversation and have absolutely no control over it. If you think that the public has huge complaints about you, why would you think not having a facebook account or a blog or a forum of your own would stop those complainers from registering their complaint somewhere else? Other rating forums and discussion groups exist and even relevant newspaper articles published online can have hundreds of responses.

Non-profit organizations, government entities, and elected officials need to recognize that these forums are not just a place for people to leave complaints like the age old Festivus tradition of the listing of grievances. This is a way to develop a back and forth method of conversation and constituent tracking. If someone registers a complaint, address it. Speak to it and be honest (within the confines of your organization's guidelines).

See this more as an opportunity to become closer to your constituency in this more modern age. It is a window to your organization, a way to become more human with those who may want to donate or volunteer. Having active and inclusive social media platforms enable the public to know why they should be excited about your organization and what you do.

I was speaking with a former Assemblywoman this last year at a St. Patrick's party. She and I agreed that you can't really have an effective political campaign, especially in California, without using social media. This applies to organizations, issue campaigns and even marketing campaigns. So, for those who are in the non-profit, government and political worlds my small tid-bit of advice for you is simply this, it is time to embrace your fears. And I have said this many many many times before. If you, as the communications leader for your organization, have some remaining fear about jumping into the social media world just remember the litany against fear;

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

So this is my small gift to anyone who, like me, thinks my knowledge could be useful; some of that knowledge. I have decided to make this a monthly thing because it would mean a bit more than just saying "don't be afraid" and will give me more of an opportunity to say what I want to say.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Until I come back next time with "Social Media Advice to Non-Profits Part 2 - The 5 Step Process"

-Andrew Kornblatt

Friday, December 17, 2010

Obama and The Tax Deal

Call us Obama-apologists, call us deluded, call us moderates, call us whatever you will but there are those of us Democrats who can see the rationality behind the actions of Obama in brokering his tax deal with the Republicans. In fact, part of what the Reactionary Left is doing could be seen as part of an overall plan to lay the ground work for some slick political maneuvering.

We really are in a pickle as a party, us Democrats. For the last 4 years we have gotten a lot done to aid our country. There are in fact some really amazing things on the list of at least 100 accomplishments that this administration has done including the signing of the Recovery Act and the establishment of a method to openly track the spending of that Act. I mean seriously, take a look at that list, it is rather incredible. While it is a fact that this administration has accomplished some truly amazing things, it is also true that there are some major short fallings when it comes to the promises and expectations that have not been met.

"Don't ask, don't tell" still exists, as does the Afghan and (de facto) Iraqi wars. There is still this air of Fear and Constitutional pliability out there. Things are not what we expected, but that was always to be expected. Obama has a lot of criticisms out there, and justifiably so in many instances for those without patience. Again, this is to be expected that there would be little patience in the age of instant gratification. We don't vote for big capitol projects anymore because there are those who will not live to reap the rewards, we don't really understand the monetary needs for 10 year plans and 100 year plans. There are many of use who rationalize climate change as a problem for the future instead of something to plan for and attempt to prevent. As a liberal democrat, I understand the frustration at America for a lack of Universal Healthcare and at the inequality in the classes, races, sexes, sexual practices. I am more frustrated with the shortsightedness out there from both sides. We need to try to think beyond the now and look at where things need to go and work hard to get there. We forgot how hard it was to get each step. We expect it as soon as there is a new president when that is not how it has ever really worked.

We all have to remember something, we are hurting, hard. As a country we are in some dire times, people's lives are falling apart. A great accomplishment is to give these people time. Time to help the economy along (remember your Keynesian economics) and find a job. These people who now will not be late on their payments will have a real example of the accomplishments of this administration - their continued benefits. As one of the millions of Americans on some form of unemployment, this issue hits very close to home. Did we give up a lot on it? Yes. Does it send a message to the Right? Yes, but not the one I think has been the most discussed. The Republicans are just as afraid of us as we are of them, perhaps more. The last time the Republicans gained control and threw a tantrum, Bill Clinton just let them have their closed session. They looked like ineffective children and he is currently one of the most popular presidents and is seen as accomplishing at least as much as FDR.

In presenting this current agreement to the right with a bargaining chip of something relatively small, a slight continuation of some of the tax cuts, for the attention and love of the disenfranchised and just to be able to help them seems a fair trade. Obama actually shows himself as a compromiser and unifier. The fact that the Liberal Dems are up in arms about it is a bonus.

To me it just seems like a mind game.

Again, the Republicans have seen what an angry and mobilized Democratic party can do, in the election of Obama, in the reinstatement of their control of Congress during Clinton. The Republicans are afraid. The fact that the Democrats are already frothing at the mouth for a fight, in my mind, is making the slightly bankrupt Republican leadership shake in their boots. It is a huge show of power, especially with Obama's "Let them bring a fight" conversation unifying them and drawing a line in the sand. It would be lovely if this was all planned and thought out by the administration.

Who knows, maybe I am giving them too much credit in their ability to gamble and believe in themselves. We shall see.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some thoughts on the Plastic Bag Ban in San Jose yesterday

Yesterday the San Jose City Council banned plastic single use bags making it the largest city to band them outright. This was a project that I worked on, as I have previously mentioned, while I was working for Kansen Chu. We generated the memo that led to this ban as a result of many influences and reasons but I really want to speak to a concern that many mentioned at the council meeting for this provision, including Councilmember Constant. There was a fear that during these times of economic hardships, this effort was unfair and unwise. I feel the need to speak to this from the point of reference of cost. Now while the costs of cleaning plastic bags from our streams, our oceans and eventually our food stream are as yet only speculative, we have to look at the current costs to our tax payers to deal with these plastic bags currently in our waste stream.

For the most part, plastic bags enter our waste stream through two sources, the trash/recycling stream and the bio-waste stream. For both of these streams there are major costs on cleaning the systems that these plastic bags "gum up." It costs thousands of dollars when sewage treatment plants and recycling plants are stopped as a result of gears being gunked up by a stray bag or two. In fact it has gotten to the point where recycling centers, which are required by state law to accept plastic and plastic bags, don't want the bags because they are losing money on them. To make up these funds, the recycling and processing centers will increase their rates which will instantly increase rates on taxpayers.

Just as a tangent, it should also be noted that these centers and municpalities are also required to take all forms of recyclable plastic but are unable to actually recycle all of them. Many of the bottles and containers are simply thrown away or shipped to China to be "taken care of."

The big issue that we were constantly speaking to was producer responsibility, the idea that those who generate products should take into account their entire life cycle including the waste stream aspect. Since the producers of these plastic bags seemed unable or unwilling to put forward the effort to deal with the wastestream end of their product, the costs will continue to be on the Municipalities and the tax payers.

In the end, eliminating the plastics from the system will cost far less to the people of San Jose then keeping them in the mix. Just food for thought.

Congrats San Jose, congrats.

Next step; paper bags and Styrofoam clam-shells.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thoughts on The 9th Circuit Appeals Court Hearing on Prop 8

Today a historic hearing on the validity of the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8 took place in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

This was one of the first judicial tribunal hearings that I have listened to all the way through. Both sides worked hard to present their arguments thoroughly and the Judges gave an excellent example of fair jurisprudence in their questions to each side of the argument.

After arguing the validity of the claim and the claimant (an Imperial County Deputy Clerk not wanting to "deal" with same sex marriage) the heart of the arguments were heard, whether or not the voters of the State have the right to a. deny a group or "class" of individuals set "rights" because of the traditional values, roles and definitions of those rights, b. take away a set of rights that were allowed to a group of citizens and c. enact laws against a special class of citizenry because of "bigotry" and what the definition of "bigotry" is.

The three main things that I have to say, from a legal standpoint, are the fallacy of the Pro-prop 8's attempt to distance this case from the Loving case where mixed race marriage was the issue, the argument and definition of the "purpose of marriage," and the rational basis test.

In the Loving V. Virginia a mixed race couple was refused to marry because of laws on the books in Virginia that for all intents and purposes prohibited "mixed race" relations. To avoid the implications of the Racial Integrity Act, a state law banning marriages between any white person and any non-white person, the couple married in the District of Colombia and returned to Virginia to be arrested for engaging in interracial sex. After seeing their out of state marriage certificate the couple were instead arrested under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia. The Proponents of Prop 8 attempted to argue that since the marriage between an interracial mixed sex couple could produce children, meeting the definition they were apparently putting forward of the role of marriage - procreation. There was a dizzying attempt to show that bastards and children of single parents were some how less well adjusted to society as those with a 2 parent mixed sex household and a burden on the state and would be the same with same sex couples. In essence this means that any single parent household AND any barren mixed sex marriage were violating the rules or "sanctity" of marriage and failing at meeting the purpose of marriage. Over all both the arguments trying to distance Prop 8 with Loving and the attempt to define this role of marriage failed and it seemed laughable that this attempt to re-instate Proposition 8 was even seeing light of day.

This feeling was compounded when the issue of "Rational Basis Review" was breached. In rational basis, the base level of scrutiny is applied by courts when deciding constitutional equal protection and due process issues. In most instances, rational basis is the default level of review and does not usually apply in situations where a suspect or quasi-suspect classification is involved, or a fundamental right is implicated which, in the mind of this non-lawyer, both apply here.

The passion could be felt and it reminded me of watching Inherit the Wind, the movie regarding the Scopes Monkey trial. I wonder when the movie will be made of this. I also must say that it was rather great to hear the judges and the advocates engaging in some levity here and there, like the comic relief in a Shakespearean Drama.

Over all it was quite enjoyable and look forward to reading the decisions of the Judges.

Democracy in action.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cancun Sumit update - China's Complaint

Though there is a glut of news out there that may distract us, we can not forget that the Cancun UN Climate talks are currently taking place. Also known as COP16, short for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the talks have already showed some disparaging signs as to how effective they will actually be and seem to possibly be as small of a step as the Copenhagen talks were to having an international and legally binding Climate Treaty. We need to keep in mind that the last landmark climate treaty which was legally binding was the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States never actually signed onto under the Bush Presidency. With the Kyoto Protocol expiring in 2012 and the non-binding and weak agreement that came out of the Copenhagen talks giving no real replacements, time is starting to run out for anything of real value to be done about it in time to build upon Kyoto.

Currently, many are blaming the United States for the lack of effectiveness, and partially I cannot fault the detractors for that. The United States delegation seems to be doing little to push an effective and time efficient treaty and seems to be messing up the process from the background. As Sarah Laskow of the Weekly Mulch puts it (in an excellently researched piece);
What does seem certain is that if, at the end of this session, international climate negotiations have become so messy and tangled the world abandons them, and starts over, much of the blame will lie with the United States.
It actually looks like the Republican gains in the mid-term elections caused the US delegation to abandon plans to introduce its own climate change legislation. Currently they have only offered a weak pledge to cut emissions by 17 per cent, a stance that has weakened their position in the international talks and negotiations.

The United States should be eating some humble pie regarding effectiveness and leadership at home for these talks. Compared to China, the United States has been caught sleeping on the Climate Leadership job. While the legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions died in Congress, China made pollution cuts and energy efficiency the law and even considered a CO2-trading system. In fact, while the U.S. attracted about $18.6 billion in renewable-energy investments in the last, China attracted $34.5 billion, nearly double. As stated in an article from Bloomberg news;
“China is in a stronger negotiating position now than they were in Copenhagen because the perception is the U.S. doesn’t have its domestic act together,” Alden Meyer, head of policy in Washington at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview. “The Chinese public believes they are doing a lot more on the ground than the U.S., and they don’t think China should have to make any concessions.”
In fact China and other countries like Bolivia and Venezuela, have been accusing some developed nations at the talks of trying to kill the Kyoto Protocol pact and without America, or even Canada, taking the lead and presenting anything strong, the talks seem to be going towards a deadlock. As written by David Derbyshire of the Daily Mail;
Without American committed to taking action, other countries are reluctant to sign up to a legally binding cut in their carbon emissions - a cut that could put them at an economic disadvantage... China is equally reluctant to sign up to any legally binding treaty, claiming it is unfair that its economic growth should be restricted by the West.
The United States really needs to get their domestic act together. The current lack of leadership on the U.S.'s part is frightening, not just for the present but for 2012. Imagine a scenario for a moment. Obama and the Democratic leadership are so split that they are no longer an effective party and there is stagnation in the legislature which bolsters the Republicans. As a result of infighting and lack of unity, Obama is either met with a challenger (and loses to that challenger) or split from the major party effort causing the Republican candidate to win the Presidency and gain control of both the House and Senate. Imagine, on the best of cases, that the UN delegations can pump out something relatively binding and effective by 2012. That means that by the time a treaty agreement can voted on in Congress, there could be no Legislative support for it, causing us to not sign or abide by that treaty either. In the worst case scenario, no UN action comes about and as a result of the change in regime in the US, no delegation would be sent that would push for anything progressive. Sorry situations in either case.