Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Where is my representative?

The concept behind a representative government is a much debated philosophical construct. What does it mean to have a representative government? In basic terms it means having a system in place where decisions would be made by those duly elected by the public to represent their interests and themselves. The whole point of redistricting, from a purely theoretical sense, is to make sure that those who truly represent the population of those districts are elected.

What happens when there is such a difference between the elected and the represented that there is no feasible way that they truly represent the population?

We all know that times are tough and that things have been hard for the entire population. We also know that the income gap has been widening in the United States, but what of our inequalities between the elected and the represented.

The numbers here are staggering, and explained very well in BET of all places;
Both The Washington Post and The New York Times have reported data that indicate that the net worth of the average member of the House of Representatives skyrocketed. The Post reported that the figure more than doubled, from $280,000 in 1984 to $725,000 in 2009. And over the same period, they reported, the net worth of the average American family declined slightly, from $20,600 to $20,500.
In fact it appears that nearly half of all members of Congress — 250 in all, are millionaires and are in fact nine time richer than the rest of us. This rise in Congressional worth occurred while the rest of us are stagnant or deflating. There is an amazing analysis of this phenomenon in the Atlantic that shows a direct correlation between the wealth of the governing and how they govern;
The wealth gap explains why congresspeople seem so terribly disconnected from the plight of the populous. It explains why Congress is so polarized about trying to help the unemployed while creating hiring conditions for profitable businesses. It explains why arguments to lower taxes on the wealthy hold so much sway on Capitol Hill. It explains why anti-regulation, laissez-faire policies have won backing only years after a credit crash caused, or at least exacerbated, by poor regulation set off the Great Recession.
What we are looking at is more of an Oligarchy than a real democracy, an institution where the wealthy and "successful" are the rulers and lawmakers. These lawmakers are absentmindedly bartering over issues without a real realization that their decisions are affecting real people and, instead of actually working together on solving these issues, we end up in a stagnant government. They even allow for inhuman, soulless entities with no inherent morality such as corporations the same rights as humans. When real change is threatened, it is squashed by special interests, the legislative and monetary elite until a massive popular movement forces change. This is a situation that has been repeating itself since the days of Tammany Hall.

Thanks again, PAUL KRUGMAN, for this fantastic analysis.
Whenever growing income disparities threaten to come into focus, a reliable set of defenders tries to bring back the blur. Think tanks put out reports claiming that inequality isn’t really rising, or that it doesn’t matter. Pundits try to put a more benign face on the phenomenon, claiming that it’s not really the wealthy few versus the rest, it’s the educated versus the less educated.
These days things are a little different. Information is spreading far too quickly to be truly effectively quelled and if I was in Congress I would be shaking in my expensive boots. The Occupy Movement has already been lauded as a response to our current oligarchical system and the inequality staring the average American in the face today.

I would be frightful of the upcoming call to Occupy Congress a rally/protest slated for January 17th purposed at demonstrating the need for real change in our Legislators.

As an American, I know that this is something we need. We need the re-occurring revolution Jefferson promised us to shake things up. If this means class warfare then bring it on. It needs to happen for the survival of the American people and the American dream. Maybe it needs a war on the very idea of "class" of the idea as "wealth" as the goal. Maybe all it really means is that you HAVE to be rich to run for office. If that is the case, then our system is truly unfair and un-American.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Kyoto, Canada and the Durban Talks

The United Nations Climate change talks continued this week. A continuation from the efforts of Cancun, Copenhagen, and even the Koyoto Accords took place in Durban South Africa with surprising results. Two steps forward and one GIANT step backwards.

The UN has been working on Climate protection efforts since 1992 and we need to push things into gear and quickly if we want to not only change the mindset but even save ourselves. To really set the gravity of the situation I believe an article in the Allianz Knowledge Partnersite said it best:
We have five years left. If nothing changes by 2017, if we don’t revolutionize energy systems, if we can’t get countries to agree a climate deal, global warming will breach the 2 degrees Celsius barrier and we will be locked into runaway climate change.

There are many different factors that speak to a looming disaster on the horizon of this most recent installment of talks. The fact remains that the industrialized countries of the United States, Europe and Canada want new proposals and protections and the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) have their collective line in the sand wanting an extension of the Koyoto agreements. I, like many others, would congratulate Connie Hedegaard, the EU's climate chief, on her apparent victory in Durban. While BASIC have effectively pushed that through and while the UN leadership is hailing this as some sort of victory, we have to ask, how great of a victory is this really?

The United States is currently not a partner in the Koyoto agreements, India and China were exempted from emissions caps on the grounds that rich countries had done the majority of the polluting, and now it seems that Canada is taking the stance of backing out of the accords instead of trying to work on a new strategy. This should not be surprising, as seen in some of Canada's more recent legislative actions. Many could argue that these actions signify more of a failure in the Climate talks than a victory.

It is the base fear that setting limits on emissions and putting a monetary value on our environmental stability is detrimental to business and industry that is killing the efforts in the United States and Canada even though many experts in the past believe that this Climate negotiation and protection process will be greatly beneficial for industry.

What we really need to realize here is that we have been living on easy street for a while. The true cost of our effects on the environment are starting to be quantified and tabulated in monetary values. What I mean by this is that the losses to goods, costs to health, destruction to property as a result of climate change and our pollution is starting to register a monetary value. It is evolving to something more sophisticated then the "Cap-and-Trade" concept and is now moving towards trade agreements, taxes and even self-imposed fees. The only caveats here are that this could be a pipe dream without the proper support and populist push and, as previously stated, an effective monetary solution - or solution at all may come too late. Hopefully it wont take too many calamities, temperature changes, famines, exhaustions of natural resources or wars before we really focus on this issue.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupy the Oakland Mayor's Time - a Message to the Occupy Oaklanders

Unless you have been living under a media rock for the past month, you should have heard of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to cities across the nation and the world. While the majority of the demonstrations have been peaceful and met with everything to slight animosity to confusion, there has of course been some violence met along the way.

At 5:00 in the morning of October 25th, Oakland police officers raided the Occupy Oakland camp with reports of flashbang grenades and tear gas arresting at least 70 people. The entire campsite was ousted and city employees began to take down the camps, dispose of private property and "clean up the unsanitary conditions." The next evening, more than 500 protesters gathered in the streets of Oakland to march to take back the campsite with stops along the way at the police station holding the 70 arrested the night before. The march was peaceful yet surrounded by police on all sides as they moved to a barricaded area where the Occupy Oakland movement was camped the night before and raided that morning. By the time the group reached the solid police line they were around 1,000 strong.

Then the tear gas and flash bangs began to be thrown. The response the City of Oakland had for these individuals peaceably assembled and expressing themselves was unacceptable and resulted in massive injury, trauma and the serious injury of a former Marine, Scott Olsen.

Jean Quan, the Mayor of Oakland and the one who is ultimately responsible for this fiasco,
attempted to apologize publicly to Occupy Oakland at their general assembly Thursday night at around 11:00pm. The statement was available online and on her Facebook page. The apology touted her understanding with the movement, begged for Occupy Oakland to speak with the local businesses they were affecting and to no longer camp overnight in Frank Ogawa Plaza overnight or even be in the park outside of the 6:00am - 10:00pm hours when the Plaza is "open for free speech activities." Mayor Quan was quickly booed out of the assembly with chants of "go away," and "get out of here" before she could even make her statement. I am severely disappointed with this.

We are the 99%. We feel, amongst other things, a great injustice exists in the political system. We feel that we have been ousted from the political system by other interests and entities like high finance and major corporations, silencing our voices. What happened at Occupy Oakland last night was tantamount to excluding the Mayor of Oakland from the conversation.

We are all angry. We are all aghast at what happened. We are all shocked and amazed. With all the violence and injustice that occurred both at the Plaza raid and at the march later that night we have a right to be angry but we are better than what happened last night. We are better than just yelling at our opponents and acting like a mob. We are a collection of many different people with many different backgrounds but we should never be a mob. We should be a collection. Last night's treatment of the Mayor was mob mentality. What should have happened was more of a dialogue, more of an exchange.

By booing Mayor Quan and telling her to "get out of here," Occupy Oakland missed a huge opportunity. Oakland's Mayor should have been allowed to speak, she should've been allowed to give her already prepared message that was already available on Facebook, and then she should have been put on the spot. By allowing her the right to say what she had to say and then calling her out on her requests, the actions of her city officials and the ludicrousness of her statement in general the Occupy Oakland movement could have made huge strides in public sentiment by appearing reasonable while still utilizing the already breaking rifts that are forming in Oakland's government.

Imagine her in the spotlight, surrounded by the general assembly, being forced to answer for what happened. Last night she was able to flee from that. And now she has gained political capitol and will make you look bad.

We must not let our anger and frustration at the system and at the reaction of that system to our power come in the way of opportunities like this to engage those are we are frustrated with directly. Good luck with re-tenting and your upcoming strike.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

For those who haven't heard yet, there is an ongoing protest in New York. Wall Street has been over run by what was originally a strange amalgamation of angry citizens, anarchists, techies and political activists has now become a massive nation-wide movement including various professional unions, artists, prominent thinkers, patriots and various established organizations. This has been going on for 14 days with amazing coverage on the ground from bloggers and the movers and shakers.

From the Occupy Wall Street Website;
Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.
What is truly interesting to me is what the meanings are behind these movements. This current movement seems to be a reaction, in some way, not only to the inequalities in representation that we in the 99% feel in Congress compared to those who have lobbying firms and monetary influence. The reasons for individuals taking to the streets also seem to be a reaction to the anger we are all feeling at the bailouts that Wall Street have received while still down grading the status of our economy and trust. They are pissed off about bank foreclosures, high unemployment and the state of the Nation.

In my mind, while this movement has definitely been inspired by the Arab Spring, this is also a reaction to the Tea Party movement. Back in June the Washington Post ran an article called; "Can Liberals Start Their Own Tea Party?" - In it it described Van Jones' "The American Dream Movement"
Organizers are hoping to emulate the the success of the tea party, which became a significant force in the 2010 midterms, uniting like-minded people across the country who were previously uninvolved in politics or participating locally but not at the national level.
While the occupy Wall Street movement is not solely a liberal push, it is a movement wanting change, change from the old norms of economic ideals and the concept of "too big to fail." When Republicans are admonishing President Obama for his tax plans being "class warfare" they should look at what is happening in New York; that is the true starts of class warfare. This is the Network moment. The people are mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore.

There are many voices in this movement. Some who are outraged by the current failings in Congress and our economy and some who are just tired of our floundering and insane economic system of investment and monetary tricks. What we also have to keep in mind is that for the first few days of this movement, it was silent.

Most are upset during the first week of this movement that there was very minimal press coverage. Either the media didn't want to address this "protest movement" or they didn't really know how. It got to the point where the story of the lack of coverage got more coverage than what was actually taking place and what it meant.

Then the protests got violent, not on the side of those who were angry and expressing that angst through their constitutional right of peaceable assembly, but from those "keeping the peace." Many had been arrested and tensions rose.

One instance that shocked me was a group of young women, in a fenced off area, standing peaceably being non-nonchalantly pepper sprayed by an officer of the law. Different organizations have picked it up, even more than instances of brutality or [updated] protesters marching on the police themselves.

So many people have been showing up to this movement; musicians, politicians, and other leaders. One of my personal heroes, Dr. Colonel West, was in attendance and held one of my favorite signs;

This sign resonates with not only myself but on a subject that Paul Krugman brought up when he discussed how the U.S. Economy needs to be treated like a war. Dr. West actually gave a great analysis of the situation calling it the American Autumn that is a response to the Arab Spring, and it gives me hope and pride in our community. As he said to Amy Goodman from Democracy Now;
Well, I think we’ve got to keep the momentum going because it’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands. We’re talking about a democratic awakening. We’re talking about raising political consciousness, so it spills over; all parts of the country so people can begin to see what’s going on through a different set of lens. And then you begin to highlight what the more detailed demands would be, because in the end we’re really talking about what Martin King would call a revolution; a transfer of power from oligarchs to every day people of all colors, and that is a step-by-step process. It’s a democratic process, it’s a non-violent process, but it is a revolution, because these oligarchs have been transferring wealth from poor and working people at a very intense rate in the last 30 years, and getting away with it, and then still smiling in our faces and telling us it’s our fault. That’s a lie, and this beautiful group is a testimony to that being a lie. When you get the makings of a U.S. autumn responding to the Arab Spring, and is growing and growing—-I hope it spills over to San Francisco and Chicago and Miami and Phoenix, Arizona, with our brown brothers and sisters, hits our poor white brothers and sisters in Appalachia...
Well, Dr. West, it has started spilling over to San Francisco. In fact there have already been at least 6 arrests in San Francisco durring protests that sprung up on this side.

It seems the current Zeitgeist. Billionaires and millionaires taking Warren Buffett's approach and asking for their taxes to be raised, the disappearing American middle class, the horrible state of things out there. The people are tired of being marginalized and are trying to fight back.

While some may try to minimize the importance of these droves of individuals taking to the street, and others hail it as the start of an American Communist revolution, I sit and enjoy the moment. No matter what happens here, we the American people are trying to change a broken system and I am getting tingles seeing it happen.

For more about the protests and other FAQs, The Nation has a really great article up here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 memories

10 years ago I was a Freshman at Boston University. As one of the only lucky college students to actually have a (relatively) working television. I was getting ready for my first class of the day when 3 of my friends from my dorm room floor rushed in and let us know we had to put on the television.

As soon as we turned it on, we were all confused. We had no idea what was going on. Once we realized that something had caused one of the twin towers to start burning the panic and confusion only got worse. My roommate, a Great Neck resident with friends working in the towers, was on the phone instantly. My first reaction was shock, what the hell was happening. My second was, "Holy Crap, we are going to go to war."

That second thought was something that, the more I have expanded upon and contemplated, the more I realize its intensity. We were at war with terrorists who were using violence for political action. One of the metrics for sucess in a terrorist effort is to create such a state of fear that the population you are terrorizing has to drastically change their way of life. The way our government changed, the way we lowered our humanitarian and POW handling standards, the way we changed security in many different fronts and the entirety of the homeland security act are all evidence of their successes.

Ignoring the issue that for the following 3 years that if you even questioned the government on any of their actions you were considered "UnAmerican" the real detrimental fact that one of Bin Laden's main goals was to bankrupt the U.S. economy as a result of his organization's terrorist efforts and we played right into that goal. A recent NPR interview with Washington Post national security reporter Dana Priest, the co-author of both the Post's investigative series and the book Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State detailed a frightening side of America's war on terror.
"The government said, 'We're facing an enemy we don't understand, we don't have the tools to deal with it, here's billions ... of dollars and a blank check after that for anybody with a good idea to go and pursue it,' " she says. "Not only does the government find it difficult to get its arms around itself, [but now] it doesn't know what's inside, it doesn't know what works, it doesn't know what doesn't work. And nobody still, 10 years later, is really in charge of those questions."
The current estimate of what has been spent on these efforts is in the multiple hundreds of billion dollars, but honestly there is no real way to be sure right now, and the more sunlight that is put on this, the deeper the hole will go. When we are currently talking about the overspending of government and cutting back things like health care, social security and other social programs, why aren't we taking a more serious look at these costs which are still on going?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Right fighting EPA entitlements...

Rick Perry Watching out for his health.

I know that the Conservative Right's agenda is to destroy the EPA. I know this because pretty much the entire battalion of those running (and some not running yet) have made it obviously clear. While the majority have called for its destruction and some only want to limit its abilities, there seems to be an almost religious fear of the organization from the Republican leadership.

The decided hot button issues are the economy and jobs and what is better to get everyone on your side than a common enemy? So "
the leading Republican candidates are all linking environmental regulation to jobs and the economy, suggesting that the nation cannot afford measures that impose greater costs on businesses and consumers." here the EPA becomes the common enemy and the current thinking is whichever candidate can beat their verbal sword against the EPA loud and violent enough they will get the opportunity to run against Obama.

But why the EPA? An organization whose mission is simply; "
...to protect human health and the environment" which has had major success over the years. The major arguments seem to be that the EPA is a "job killer" and that they are just "another bloated useless agency." It seems very interesting that on one side you have Rick Perry who;
  1. has been described as W. Bush "on steroids"
  2. doesn't believe in Climate Change
  3. holds public prayers for rain and an end to EPA restrictions
  4. is in a battle between his state and EPA air quality standards/Greenhouse Gas regulations.
and on the other side you have Michelle Bauchman who, well, wants to "repeal" the EPA:

yet still wants to request funds and projects from the agency.

According to various sources, the agency's budget is only around $8.973 billion, which is a drop in the hat of the Trillions that we are in over our heads. With a huge joblessness problem already in effect, how wise is it to add another 18,000 to those ranks which is NOT including any contractors, part-time employees or vendors that are dependent on the EPA.

Though various right-wing entities (like the Institute for Energy Research) have bawked at them there are various reports that show how the the EPA and its regulations and other actions are actually job creators. One specifically interesting is from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and yet the long term benefits are overlooked by those who only see the short term.

We have already learned that entitlements don't have any merit unless they pertain to you, but hopefully it wont come to the point where we can't breathe our air or can't let rain touch us for us to realize the importance of an agency whose function is to look out for our health, sustainability and natural resources.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The state of the economy, why the debt ceiling debates hurt America

I have a thought experiment regarding the debt ceiling debate. Mainly this is the thoughts around the situation of "what happens if we can't maintain our current level of obligations." Imagine that America is a house. The roads and infrastructure are the pipes. The agriculture is the yard, the industry represented by the house's office and kitchen. The citizenry are those that live in side.

Each time we try and make a cut to the budget of running that house we have to shut down a small part of the house's operation. By cutting the money we give to the most at risk, we have to pull our kid's allowance and remove Grandpa's medicine cabinet.

Each time we need to make a repair to the infrastructure but put it off because it is too pricey we play a dangerous game of chance till something completely catastrophic happens and the house needs more repairs then we can actually fathom. Eventually the repairs needed are so dire that the kitchen explodes and the office collapses.

We currently have other houses who have lent us money, some of our own family members have as well. By not increasing out debt ceiling, we are threatening to have those family members and backers loose faith in us. This turns us into the deadbeat uncle/neighbor who has a house that is considered urban blight.

We have built the house of America, and if we don't maintain it, it will crumble leaving only ruins and a broken people.

Al Franken tells it best in this 45 minute speech.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Redistricting California by Commission

Anyone who has paid even a little attention to Politics, especially State Politics, has heard of the term “Gerrymandering.” It is a term that has more than just a negative connotation surrounding it, it is seen as an evil practice that totally circumvents the democratic process.

As a bit of a brief history and civics lesson, whenever there is a government based on representative bodies, there needs to be a way to identify who should be represented and how. Generally a larger political area, such as a state, will be broken down into districts that are based either on geography or, in most instances, population demographics.

Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing the district lines in such a way that the “seat” for that district will be reliably one party or the other. The end result of this practice is decreased competition, increased margin of victory and increased voter apathy.

In California, traditionally the elected officials of the State Legislature drew the districts. There was such mistrust as a result of strangely shaped districts being put out there that accusations of incumbent gerrymandering flew everywhere. This week a “new” and independent commission has released their first draft of the new districts in California. The commission members consist of five democrats, five republicans and four independents all chosen at random to try and increase their independence from any particular party.

The commission comes as a result of past efforts of progressive and initiative based politics in 2008 and 2010, specifically Proposition 11 and Prop 20.

As a result of the citizen driven effort, Congressmembers and state legislators throughout California have noticed that these proposed district changes make their traditionally easily won seats perilous, or that they are now in the same district as other legislators. As mentioned by the San Jose Mercury News;

First-term Assemblywoman Nora Campos, San Jose-centric district in which to seek re-election. A portion of her East San Jose district was placed in a district now represented by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas.

The new maps have caused a lot of controversy, changing the shapes has already meant that some of the representatives are currently residing outside of the districts they represent, a big no-no in California.

Also the changes have represented the actual demographic power changes, as mentioned in the NY Times:

One of the big changes in the map reflects the increasing population of Latinos here. Both Mr. Berman and Mr. Dreier, along with Representative Bob Filner, Democrat of San Diego, would, if this map is approved, be in districts that are predominantly Hispanic, and vulnerable to a challenge by a Hispanic opponent. Mr. Filner announced this week that he would run for mayor of San Diego.

Those of you who have read my blog for a while will remember Filner is someone whose political history I have followed relatively closely while I was living and working in San Diego. This redistricting could sweep in a whole new (or returning) crop of Latino and other minority candidates into office, possibly including former Assemblymember Juan Vargas who has been eyeing Filner's congressional seat for many years now.

Basically, while nothing is set in stone yet, the long term ramifications of this independent redistricting could really shake things up for a while in California politics, up until the parties adjust and grab footholds in the districts. Hopefully, by then it will be time for another round of reorganizing.

Watch for the final maps to come out on July 28th and be certified by August 15th.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Arnold and America's sick obsessions

According to recent admissions, Ex-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had a child out of wedlock with a family staffer prior to becoming Governor. It has made huge headlines and has been the talk of the Hollywood, Politico and News outlets. My biggest question in all this is, why does anyone care?

Who CARES about Arnold and his women? Infidelity is nothing new in politics and extramarital children is nothing new in Hollywood. Why is this news? Americans should not be shocked at all by any of this. When Gavin Newsom slept with his staffer's wife back in '07 or even in recent news when Congressman Mark Souder resigned over news that he had an affair with a female staffer no one should be shocked or surprised. Even Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich seems unfazed by his past infidelities, some that even occurred while probing Clinton on his peccadilloes.

Arnold's situation should come as no surprise for anyone who has had any knowledge of the inner workings of his tenure as Governor. Be it the "grope gate" or the stories of his aids physically separating him from female legislators to prevent continued inappropriate behavior, it is almost laughable to be asked, as so many news outlets have already, "were you shocked?" Personally, when I worked in the Legislature I saw some questionable things occurring around his cigar filled tent out in the Governor's courtyard but again, it is politics and people with people.

I am not even going to go into the hundreds of instances of illegitimate children that have been seen in the Hollywood world or the countless stories and instances of infidelity. This entire situation should not surprise anyone and really should not be given the focus it has. This situation has ruined a marriage, broken a home and possibly ruined the lives of the child in question and his mother.

I am not trying to make any apologies for the former Governor here, this is a situation that I find aggravating and disappointing from many angles.

In the end this is another private matter of dirty laundry between individuals that the American public feels compelled to bury their faces in.

Put yourself in the shoes of the child. You didn't ask for this attention, yet now all eyes are on you and your mother. You are already shaken from your recent bout with cognitive dissonance
and now the media is ridiculing your mother.

I am more shocked at the American Media and public for continuing this practice when there are real issues and dangers to report on than I am with an actor/politician being unfaithful to his wife. Shocked, but not surprised.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Ladin Dead

Last night in Abbottabad, Pakistan, United States Naval Seals, the same group once called Cheney's "death squad" and while there are mixed accounts of what actually happened, the death of the figure head of Al Qaeda will obviously have some implications.

The death of Osama bin Laden means a lot, mainly closure to victims of 9/11 and some political clout for Obama. On the other hand the death of this one man, it did not end America's "war on terror" though there are many that believe that this should be the end. Osama's death did not mean increased financial future for the united states, nor did it change our terror alert and above all else it does not make America Great. The world seems to be in a bit of a state of shock, like the strange silence in Boston the first hour after the Sox won the series for the first time in memory so many years ago. Some have a sigh of relief like certain moderate Muslim leaders and some are happy yet hesitant to celebrate for fear of the upcoming retaliation. My big question, what's next? This has been the highest priority of the intelligence community of the United States' since Bush's first term. Now that they have accomplished this task they have to be looking further down the list of "Most Wanted." There is obviously still a lot to do but my wonder is how to repair our ailed relationship with the Arab world and how to steer the course with that changing world since the Arab Spring which has been amazing and awe inspiring.

I find it very amazing that this hopeful revolution has gone throughout the Arab world and affected so many areas. While I am Jewish and support the State of Israel, unlike my Israeli friends I am overjoyed by the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine as a result of the push of the people. I really hope that all players realize that legitimization also means responsibility and expectations, I am excited and on pins and needles and hope that the Osama death will fall to the waysides to the bigger and more important story of the changing of the face of the Arab world.
There is this really great fake Martin Luther King quote spreading around the internet, and while it is not a good or direct quote, it is poignant none the less.
"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
~ (not) Martin Luther King Jr

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An open letter to Donald Trump.

Dear Donald Trump,

We are all aware of how you brought the issue of President Obama's birth records back from silence and how you sent "investigators" to Hawaii to find out about the origins of the President. I am very glad that you seem to think that you did something worthy of gloating or self-praise when all you really did was bring up a non-issue when people are out of work and can't afford to ride around in limos or boss Gary Busey around.

You pushed hard for that birth certificate. You demanded it, and when it finally was produced you said "why wasn't it produced sooner?" Ignoring the fact that such information is private and usually confidential and ignoring the fact that in any bureaucracy getting official documents take time and the fact that Obama's initial background check that he had to have when he first took office in Congress passed with flying colors, I have to say congratulations. Way to pander to the Birthers that are still out there and mix it up in the Republican Pre-Primary.

Yes, you have handled big projects and one can really see how that makes you qualified to handle the after math of horrible disasters like the BP oil spill, and of course you have worked with foreign dignitaries and large budgets throughout your professional career. While you may quable with Forbes over your "brand"'s net worth in my eyes you are a jewel.

All that being said, the part of me that wants an easy Democratic victory come the next presidential election prays that you continue to run, and that it is not a fake campaign because you are just as big of a mockery as Palin, and truly easy to beat.

Thank You,

Andrew K.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Innovation Highlight: Las Vegas and San Francisco Water Innovations

For those who don't yet know, one of the issues I am most passionate about is resource management. Water specifically is a huge issue for me. While I was working with the City of San Jose I worked on projects with the Water Treatment Plant and was amazed at the systems we have devised so far in saving resources. Everything from the minimization of water escaping as "waste" to purple piping innovations to using the methane given off by the digesters for energy.

Something that I want to start examining, along with all the other projects I am working on, are the innovations that I hear about regarding city management and environmental policies, and the like. This stems from working on projects with the SFPUC and the Apollo Alliance.

Since this is the first of these, I am going to start off small and mention today's Fresh Air on NPR. Among the other amazing stats figures and sensational information this program was displaying, the most interesting item to me was about how amazing the water system is in Las Vegas, literally the driest big city in the United States.

Las Vegas has been leading in innovations regarding their relationship to water. From turf reclamation programs to solar water heating incentives to, what I find most impressive, Las Vegas' water reclamation.

According to Charles Fishman, writer of the new book The Big Thirst and NPR interviewee,
"Las Vegas, over time, has come to recapture almost all of the water used anywhere [in the city] indoors," he says. "Although Las Vegas has what was, for a long time, the largest fountain on Earth and shark aquariums and lagoons that re-create the canals of Venice right on the strip, over the last 20 years, per-person water use in Vegas has fallen 100 gallons."
As if the current figures and efforts weren't enough, according to Reusing Water as a Resource in Las Vegas by Sean Goldwasser et al, "it was estimated that by 2025, the valley had a reuse potential of over 90 million gallons per day (MGD). This would mean the use of reclaimed water at every golf course, park, school and other large turf areas throughout the valley."

While it is true that other cities across the nation have green programs that call to rethink our relationship with water such as San Jose, New York, and Seattle, the City of Las Vegas, with its lavish decadence and countless swimming pools, water shows and aquariums, stands out like a shining jewel that other municipalities can learn from regarding efficiency.

Just as an example of other efforts from somewhere a little closer to home, San Francisco recently unveiled its plan for its first large-scale water recycling project. According to Know Your H2O blog, the project would; "take treated wastewater from the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant near San Francisco Zoo, run it through fine membranes and ultraviolet-light systems, and spread it through the network of existing pipes and sprinklers snaking through the parks. The water could also serve to flush toilets at the California Academy of Sciences."

These efforts come about as a result of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) an Agency that was created "to represent the interests of 24 cities and water districts, and two private utilities, in Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties that purchase water on a wholesale basis from the San Francisco regional water system" who has a unique focus on recycled water programs.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Government Shut Down

The press is on a field day about how the U.S. Government is on the brink of a shut down. The “moderate” republicans are praying that the Tea Partiers will compromise, the Tea Partiers want to push as hard as they can and the Democrats seem ready to sit back and let a shut down happen.

What usually happens in a Federal Government shut down, or at least what happened last time under President Clinton at least from an operations standpoint, was that “non-essential” government workers were put on furlough and “non-essential services” were suspended for a total of 25 days between 1995 and 96.

And even with the warnings of the past and former President Clinton telling them directly, the GOP seem determined to go forward to a shut down.

By the way, if you do check out the News Max article about President Clinton's comments, I really love the fact that he is certain "It will not have the traumatic effect it probably had last time." Honestly, I do not think that there will be a shut down, and if there will be, that we will do what humans and Americans are currently doing, adapt.

All in all it does not look good for Speaker Boehner who has been pushing for a budget deal and massive cuts at the same time. According to some polls, most support spending cuts over a shutdown, which seems very straight forward and like a “non-question.” Many are concerned about their benefits or the plight of Federal workers and, for the most part, there is some reason to be. The budget is in crisis, not just because of mismanagement or waste or “overspending” but because the economy imploded. The source of revenue for our country was effectively neutered and now we are scrambling to find a way to deal with it. In my mind we have a huge problem with where are resources are going. We spend far too much on military and far too little on investing in our future – education. In my mind this is what should be invested in instead of cut. Oh well, I don't run things.

And once again, wrapping up with an excellent and poignant mark of absurdity towards the issue, here is the ever amazing, Steven Colbert.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Unions Under Attack

The attack on Labor that started in Wisconsin has begun to spread throughout the Midwest and, if uncorrected and halted, will continue to affect more States and Municipalities throughout the U.S.

In Ohio we are finding some more scary legislation being pushed through State Legislators that dial public workers back 50-100 years on their bargaining rights. From the NY TIMES;

“The measure affects safety workers, teachers, nurses and a host of other government personnel. It allows unions to negotiate wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. It gets rid of automatic pay increases and replaces them with merit raises or performance pay. Workers would also be banned from striking.”

The ban from striking is one of the aspects of the bill that should be the most frightening. This basically is neutering public employee unions from being anything more than a working group that talks about wages. What is the point of a Union without ability to back up their needs? I sincerely doubt that this will hold and if it does, Unions will not let go of this valuable negotiating tool (and pretty much understood right) and will illegally strike. Hopefully, in this scenario, if it is taken to court that the action of the State will be found unconstitutional. In fact, this, to me at least, seems completely contrary to the National Labor Relations Act which was passed in 1935 “to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.” Specifically this seems contrary to two sections;

Sec. 7. [§ 157.] Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all such activities except to the extent that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment as authorized in section 8(a)(3) [section 158(a)(3) of this title].

Sec. 13. [§ 163. Right to strike preserved] Nothing in this Act [subchapter], except as specifically provided for herein, shall be construed so as either to interfere with or impede or diminish in any way the right to strike or to affect the limitations or qualifications on that right.

With Nation-wide school authorities bracing for layoffs, tightening on wage negotiations in Nebraska, similar attacks in Indiana, and professors in Michigan and Wisconsin being singled out for attacks by Conservatives and Conservative “research groups” these are truly trying times.

I know that the Daily Show already referenced this, but I feel it needs to be shown again;

Hopefully this will be a temporary situation. People seem to forget that the Law is mutable and can change. How I see this playing out is that there will continue to be a massive movement against what is seen as the “entitled” public employees. Their real plight will be eventually seen by the public and while some of these workers will be culled (possibly with good reason) the majority of rights and “entitlements” for public sector workers will eventually be returned. In fact, in Ohio, “many Democrats, along with other opponents, have vowed to lead a ballot-repeal effort if the measure passes.

I expect that the next election cycle will have huge blowback for Republicans nationwide and that within the next 5 years, any anti-Labor legislation will be overturned by new legislation. This is a hope, but it will take the efforts of progressive groundswell and actual action.

Let’s see it happen America, you can do better than this.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wisconsin Stop Time

I feel the need to comment on the Wisconsin situation. Things have taken an interesting legislative turn and I really want to address that. It turns out that Wisconsin State Senators have pushed a bill though that legislative body that effectively strips Union members and State workers from collective bargaining. Some may ask how this was possible but to explain it simply, the Republican Senators just approached the legislative problem with a side-step.

For those who haven’t been paying attention to the happenings in Wisconsin, here are the basics. Municipalities and states across the Nation are finding budgetary shortfalls and scrambling to balance their budgets or at least look like they are trying to. Wisconsin is no different.

The Governor of Wisconsin, an honorable Mr. Walker, targeted Teacher’s Unions as, at least, one of the primary reasons for the budgetary shortfalls and while education does make up a large percentage it is strange that the state would want to make an occupation that is very hard and is already not attractive to new graduates and talents even less attractive. This is especially confusing to me since I see Education as a necessary investment in the future.

The Governor and the Teachers Union went through negotiations and the union, recognizing the fact that everyone needs to tighten their belts, conceded to many of Governor Walker’s proposals but the largest issue of contention remained something that to me was ludicrous to even be on the table; collective bargaining. As some British friends I was explaining this situation to said; “Without collective bargaining, what is the point of Unions?”

So the Governor pushed the issue and made it a part of his budget. There is a majority of Republicans in the Senate and the Assembly. There is such a majority of Republicans in the Assembly that if a measure passed through the Senate, odds are the 60-38 majority will pass that sucker right through. Democratic Senators did not want that happening and decided to flee the legislative body to stall the process.

The logic behind Democratic Senators evading the Budgetary proceedings was that the Republican majority (19-14) needed a full quorum of at least 20 senators present to vote on the bill and move it forward. The logical, and relatively politically shady, move that the Republican State Senators did was to remove that section from the budgetary bill and create its own bill, which doesn’t need any such attendance.

For the short term, this works out well for the Wisconsin State Republicans but the long term blow-back will spell destruction for them. This is a very dangerous situation and the political tactic will ostracize the State from many of the more liberal leaning States and Unions throughout the nation. Many even feel like this is really an attack on Democrats to make Wisconsin a huge Republican stronghold. I am unsure how to fight this process, but be assured, I am a little ticked off by it all, it is VERY short sighted and the children will suffer.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Social Media Advice to Non-Profits Part 2 - The 5 Step Process

Now after a long sabbatical filled with job applications and interviews and other fun activities I am back to continue my advice to Non-Profits regarding social media outreach. Last time I tried to address some of the latent fears many in Government and non-profits may have regarding social media. What needs to be remembered is that Social Media is like any outreach tool, its purpose is to make your outreach easier.

One of the easiest ways to foul up your social media outreach is to go into the process blind; with no plan. Wielding social media without a plan is like a grandmother trying to start a campfire with a lightsaber in the forest - you aren't really sure what you have, you aren't using it properly/effectively and you can really look strange in the process. There is a really quick five stage process when developing an outreach strategy that uses social media that most consultants and professionals use in some variation. The five stages are; Preparation, Implementation, Launch, Analysis, and Adaptation and the stages repeat with the same outreach campaign in the future, or with new ones you develop.

In the preparation stage of the process it is the proper time for the organization to, as a whole, set their over all goals when it comes to the future of their organization. Is there a specific issue they work on that they want higher national recognition? Is there a target donation amount for their upcoming budget they need to raise? Do they just want to increase awareness of their organization as a whole? This part of the process is known as the "Why are we here" portion where the organization as a whole has to declare their overall goals. From here those goals can be developed and broken down into smaller goals and even metrics to measure success. For example, if an organization's overall mission statement is to conserve national open spaces, then that goal could be broken down to consist of an overall image campaign to increase the national awareness of their organization and the perception of the importance of open spaces, behavior modification to change the relationship between the constituency and open spaces, fundraising, and even more specific, targeted conservation campaigns. Now let us just focus down this path on increasing the national awareness of the organization in question. This could be broken down into; increasing national traffic to the website, increasing reach of stories to nationally syndicated papers, and possibly being consider a part of the conversation leadership. This process can be long and arduous but eventually it will allow you as an organization to have a clear set of small and achievable goals to help you achieve your mission statement.

When setting goals and preparing the early stages of the outreach plan the most crucial step is to figure out your Target Demographic. This is applicable to any campaign strategy basically it means figuring out who would/should be interested in your campaign. When you figure out your target demographic, say for example, young students and parents concerned about tuition increases and class sizes, you can figure out where they would most likely be acting in an online sense. You can figure out that if your target demographic is more likely to be more engaging in the social media world, say those age 21-35 who are progressive with some sort of blog interaction, that it will be easier to have them buy into and promote your campaign. These elucidations can lead you to the various platforms you should be using and how you should be cross-promoting your campaign between them.

In the preparation step, you also have to start thinking about the timeline of your organization, do you have a big fundraiser that you want to maximize? Are there some key Legislative moves that you need action on from your constituents? Are there specific holidays that you want to capitalize on to gain more attention for your organization? All of these factors need to be taken into consideration when developing your social media strategy. All of these factors, events and actions are things that can create valuable and interesting content for your social media platforms and serve as catalysts of engagement with your constituency.

The preparation step is also the appropriate place to set up your social media guidelines and best practices. This document should be internally developed by whomever is in control of your social media and should be used to teach your employees and volunteers how to effectively and properly interact through social media platforms. It should also be used to set up certain minutia of how to operate and utilize the platforms, such as, your organization should have a minimum of 2 blog entries a week and 2 twitter posts a day.

The real point that I hope can be gained from all this is that each social media plan is unique and has to be, because it is just a tool that will help an organization reach its outreach goals.

When your social media platforms are and have set up your own guidelines and best practices the implementation should be really straightforward but there are a few quick things to remember that will make things much easier in the long run.
  1. Set up a backlog of blog entries that will post automatically.
  2. Make sure that your platforms are linked together so that when there is action on one, all are alerted.
  3. Make sure that you are listed in the appropriate web aggregators such as Dig, Technorati, etc.
  4. Make sure you attach analytical elements to EACH platform you create that also contains traffic sources information. This is key.
There are a few other tips and tricks but they again, are so specific that it really depends on your over all strategy and goals. I am in big favor of focusing your implementation in a way that includes partner groups.

There are two main ways of approaching the launch, the soft and the hard. A soft launch, which mainly consists of edging into the various conversations across the variously platforms in a way to give the impression that you have always been there is very subdued and not really advertized. The hard launch usually is a celebration. "We are here, you should be excited." The hard launch usually is attached to a branding or website redesign and should have a lot of pre-launch promotion and even should include a party of some kind. This can be a huge content generating event and should be joyful; remember, setting all this up should have been a hard and lengthy process so you deserve a party. Again, all of this is highly specialized depending on your own organization, your image and what you want to get out of your social media interaction.

The best way to measure your goals and keep track of your metrics is through analytical programs. There are various free methods such as Google Analytics, or other analytical programs that come with the platform itself but for those with the resources it is usually a good idea to pay for analytic programs, such as Radian6 or Scout Labs or the like. What every your tools are, your social media manager needs to keep at the forefront of new technologies and new methods to find out how you are affecting your constituency.

You have planned, you have launched and you have analyzed. You have had successes and, in all likelihood, some failures in your outreach. This is the point in the process where you are learning from your mistakes, where you already have an idea of where you are going with your next launch. From here, look at where your highest traffic was from and concentrate on that platform. Look at where you are getting the least, examine it, and ask, can this be improved? or should it be liquidated.

These are just brief glazing over of these steps and again, for the third time, each depends heavily on your own outreach plan and goals. In the end, the only one who can tell you how to effectively communication with your constituency is you, others can only give suggestions.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Egypt part two; Global warming and homeostasis

Many reasons have been blamed for the explosion of political movement that is sweeping the Arab world. The political change in Tunisia and Egypt spreading to parts unknown (hopefully Libya and Yemen) can be said to have many root causes, first and foremost are the horrible human rights conditions and lack of political freedoms.

It actually seems to be the perfect political storm of the right age demographic in an oppressive regime with the right technology. 8-ball, corner pocket and it all comes tumbling down. One of those straws that broke this camel’s back must be declared as Climate Change. This a direct correlation between the effects of Climate Change and Political Unrest and the thing that we must understand is that this is just the beginning if trends don’t change.

The logic is that Climate Change causes adverse effects on crop production in the world. This causes the supply of food to decrease, this mixed with increased populations (demand) and fuel prices increase food prices significantly to the point where many in the world cannot afford food. In a world where you cannot find work, your government is oppressive and you cannot even afford food anymore even if you had a job, protest on a massive scale must occur.

While this has, in a way, happened before, if we remember riots from 2008, and how that got better, things are going to get much worse before they get better folks. We have to remember; these are the birth-pains of a better world. These instabilities in the oil rich nations and 3rd world nations are going to increase oil prices. This is going to make Wall Street fearful. This is going to increase other prices. Transportation will go up, food will go up, it will be scary. Just a few quotes;

The oddest thing about the situation is that the riots are fueling the fire for the price increase. The market hates uncertainty and reacts poorly to political unrest. This causes prices to go up. In fact "Rice, wheat, corn and soybean futures gained in Chicago on speculation governments in emerging economies will boost imports after soaring food prices spurred protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Yemen. The unrest may worsen because grain hoarding “will intensify,” according to a report yesterday from New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Cocoa surged 10 percent, the most since September 2009, on signs supplies will be disrupted from the Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest grower."

Now, in the long run this means that hypothetically, once the riots subside, speculation will cause the prices to normalize eventually and food will become cheaper than it is now giving who ever gains controlled political clout and the credit for the lowering. This is, however a temporary thing. As population continues to rise, and global climates change, causing more and more difficulty to generate enough affordable food, something will eventually have to give to get us back to homeostasis and many fear that something will be massive population loss.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Egypt Riots Part One: Modern Day Domino Effect

The Egyptian "crisis" is a very interesting situation to watch. While we have gone into other countries on the auspice of instilling "democracy" our largest ally in the region besides Israel has been headed by a dictatorial ruler. What we are witnessing in Egypt is a massive movement being pushed by a coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood a traditionally anti-western and anti-Israel organization and the liberal unionists trying to enact change.

The biggest tip off to me, which made me side completely with the Egyptian people (and I believe the tipping point for most of the western world) was the closing of internet. Shutting down a huge means of conversation is just screaming dictatorial rule. No matter what you believe or what background you are coming from, this is a fact, it is the action of a government who doesn't want its citizens to freely express themselves.

There are those, most who are already under the impression that Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are controlled by Israel, who feel that the entirety of the Middle East will revolt including Israel and that these riots are showing their anger at Israel. Part two of this piece will go over the reasons behind this, but obviously they are wrong, if this has anything to do with Israel, it is a minimal spill over from the Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric.

What is truly interesting here is the reaction from Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Palestine. This thing seems to have the potential to spread like honey through the land, depending on how hot things get it can be a quick spill or a cool crawl. This possible domino effect started with the toppling of an Arab dictator in Tunisia and issues starting up in neighboring Syria.

Twitter and Facebook campaigns calling for protests have already taken over the net and one group has "called for a "day of rage" on Saturday, similar to the Jan. 25 demonstrations in Egypt that sparked the current uprising there. Another Web page with more than 6,000 members calls for protests in Damascus on Friday and Saturday."

Jordan's King actually fired his entire cabinet which is not puzzling based on the fear of some sort of insurgency. The interesting thing here is that Jordan is rather progressive and westernized. Not only is the regency (including the lovely Queen Rania who is gorgeous, brilliant and an amazing humanitarian) progressive on women's rights and dealing with the West and Israel, they rate really low on human rights violations; lower than Mexico and only slightly higher than the United States where Egypt is considered one of the top 20 offenders.

Alarmed by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the Palestinian Authority has finally agreed to hold local elections.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority agreed to hold local elections for the first time since they were cancelled in 2006 and were supposed to take place last June. But the PA controlled West Bank is very different from the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip who have "denounced the idea, asserting that the PA does not have the right to call for such elections." This is a slightly scary situation for Israel since instability has a tendency to be bad for neighboring countries.

The IDF has been keeping a “watchful” eye on the West Bank. This is mainly out of concern that Palestinians will launch demonstrations similar to the ones in Egypt. This instability will make it easier for terrorist groups will try to launch attacks against Israel, which is focused on Egypt.

As with any middle east conflicts, there are not only those who see these riots as an expression against Israel, but there are those who blame Israel itself for instigating these riots. But Israel and the United States have a lot to loose if the Egyptian government fails and is replaced by an Islamist, anti-Israeli and anti-American regime. The United States would lose a foothold and ally in the region for strategic movements if the past agreements are not kept valid. Israel could exchange a timid ally with a fierce enemy with a vast arsenal. Ha-Aretz, the official Israeli newspaper puts it best;

While in other countries many are watching with satisfaction at what looks to be possibly the imminent toppling of a regime that denied its citizens their basic rights, the Israeli point of view is completely different.

The collapse of the old regime in Cairo, if it takes place, will have a massive effect, mainly negative, on Israel's position in the region. In the long run, it could put the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan in danger, the largest strategic assets after the support of the United States.

I view this as an opportunity for the United States and Israel to gain a foot hold in the new regimes. Show that they are on the side of the Egyptian people through aid and other support. It is even an opportunity to possibly modernize Middle Eastern Islamic countries allowing for the moderatization of the region to flourish. As a high-ranking White House official once said, “Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste.

Allow the United States and even Israel to push the brotherhood out of the leadership and give the power to more leftist union leaders and other political options, separating themselves from previous regimes.

If we look at who is rioting we see that; "the formation of young rebellious groups of students and intellectuals from outside the traditional partisan framework of the opposition, which was granted some margins of freedom by the regime in the last few years in order to contain popular anger."

The political message is about oppression, the economic is about food and jobs. Spin the message so that the people will not stand for replacing one form of oppression with that of religious oppression and that the United States is not the same one that supplied Egypt with tear gas canisters but we are now the friendlier, more supportive America of hope and change. Israel can show that they are not to be feared or hated, but can help the people of Egypt and even the Palestinians shirk off the oppressive and corrupt regimes that don't really care about their people. That is really just my two cents for now, watch out for part two and three of this analysis on the Egyptian situation.