Thoughts on Trump’s election and California’s partisan divide

Posted in News and Politics

Like many Californians who grew up here, I have always considered myself a Californian more than an American.  In my 20’s I spent years travelling back and forth across the United States as part of various environmental and social justice campaigns and that feeling only deepened.  When outside the US I always tell people who ask that I am a Californian when they ask my nationality.  My daughter is a ninth generation Californian and there is nowhere else in North America I would even consider living.  As I have said for years – long before becoming involved in the independence movement – I am a Californian by birth, culture, and inclination and an American because they conquered us. As you might expect, identifying as a Californian first has an impact on how I view American politics.  

A tremendous amount of ink has been spilled about the recent American elections.  As tempting as it is to rant about everything the Democrats did wrong along the way, I’ll save that rant for another day. Instead, I want to talk a bit about why Californians voted the way they did and what that means for our future.

At the end of the day, two thirds of California’s voters checked the box for Clinton – some enthusiastically and some less so.  Of course there were four American parties in the race, but because America uses an utterly broken “first past the post” voting system instead of the proportional representation that most democracies use, everyone knew from jump that only the Democrat and Republican had a chance of winning. Being forced to choose a lesser evil is a fundamental part of the American political system, and is the not-so-secret ingredient that allows American politicians to continue to claim a democratic mandate even while overwhelmingly pursuing policies that the majority of Americans oppose.

Even so, Clinton’s landslide win in California is noteworthy.  Californians – more than any of the other subjects of the American empire – overwhelmingly decided Donald Trump was the greater evil and even normally conservative areas like Orange County voted against him.

Like previous elections, this one came down to urban vs rural. Rural Californians, rightly disgusted at the way they have been ignored and betrayed by Democrats in Sacramento and Washington DC both, overwhelmingly opted to come out and vote for someone who portrayed himself as an outsider who would listen to them. The fact that millions of people who knew their votes would make no difference came out to vote against the Democrat speaks volumes to the levels of dissatisfaction.  We need to firmly denounce the condescending attitude that so many Democrats have towards rural voters and recognize that there are real issues here that need to be addressed.

From my own conversations with Californian Trump voters, some were undeniably driven by racism – there is a shrinking but still significant segment of our population that regard immigrants from the Spanish-speaking countries to our south as invaders.  It would be a mistake to underestimate organized racists over the coming years now that they have sponsorship from the white house.  These folks have no place in California and all we can do is oppose them.  There is a much larger group, however, that voted for him as a vote of no confidence in the Democratic party.  Many of their complaints are legitimate and worth addressing.

So what are the issues?

Like most things, it comes down to economics.  California’s rural areas have been hit over and over again.  While California has strict regulation on private lands, federally owned lands (with 20 million acres of National Forest the federal government is by far the biggest landowner) are managed according to federal standards. Up until 1990 that meant clearcutting and replacing forests with monoculture tree plantations that are particularly susceptible to wildfire and beetles, provide very limited habitat, and experience massive soil erosion while the newly planted trees are small.  That eroded soil ends up in the rivers, destroying fisheries.  This has been absolutely devastating to our fishing industry and destroyed the river ecosystems where Salmon spawn.  Faced with collapsing fisheries and the inability of the State to regulate logging on federal land, Sacramento responded by shutting down much of the remaining fishing.  Diverting water from the rivers to feed farms has been the final nail in the coffin for many river ecosystems and means that 27 years later most of our fisheries have never recovered.  

Here’s the thing, a competent government could have prevented this mess by adopting appropriate regulation up front.  There’s no rule that says logging has to destroy rivers and fisheries. The peculiarly American habit of failing to regulate until permanent damage has been done and then writing legislation that passes the buck to future generations instead of addressing the root issue is in full effect here. Turning over federal lands to California and adopting sustainable logging practices would safeguard our forests and rivers while maintaining jobs over the long term. Instead,short-sighted officials in DC and Sacramento made a mess of things and left rural Californians holding the bag.

For farmers, the picture isn’t much better.  Soaring water costs driven by protracted droughts have put tremendous pressure on farmers and led to an almost annual fight over whether we should divert ever-growing amounts of water from the rivers.  Doing so would be, at most, a temporary solution for our farms but it’s hard to convince someone whose farm is teetering on the edge of solvency that fish are more important than their ability to feed their kids – even if the survival of those fish is critical to someone else ability to do the same.

There are so many missed opportunities here – interest-free loans for farmers who want to upgrade to drip irrigation and other technologies that could save billions of gallons of water if adopted across California’s vast farmlands.  Our climate has changed, but we are resourceful and can adapt!  Conservation can take us a long way if we’re willing to make the upfront investment. There are many other potential solutions to add additional water supply as well, from atmospheric dehumidifiers to desalination to just plain fixing the corroded network of pipes that move water around the state and lose millions of gallons a year.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, from poorly maintained roads to unreliable power, hospital closures, under-funded schools, and more; rural Californians often get the short end of the stick.  

Democrats do nothing to address these issues because the rural communities that would benefit don’t vote for Democrats and they are incapable of seeing beyond their own partisan interest.  Meanwhile Republicans would rather pretend that the problem is environmentalists and out of touch urban voters because casting blame is cheaper than actually investing in California’s future.  Neither American party has any solutions to offer – even though the solutions are obvious, uncontroversial, and would be supported by the vast majority of Californians.  

Here’s the thing, voting for Trump didn’t solve any of these issues.  It didn’t add a single drop of water, or save a single farm.  “Opening up the water”, as he proposed in one of his campaign speeches, would only have a marginal impact on the water available to farmers and would guarantee that our fisheries never recover. If Trump follows through on his plans to deport undocumented Californians the farmers that voted for them are going to struggle to find people to pick their crops.  For the farmers who grow California’s most valuable cash crop, Trump’s Attorney General’s promised crusade against legal marijuana promises to destroy the network of legal dispensaries that many rely on to get their crops to market.  While Trump’s proposals to open up logging and offshore oil drilling might create some jobs in the short term, clearcut forests do not provide long-term jobs and the global economy is moving away from petroleum.  So when you look at actions, Trump’s agenda does very little to help rural Californians and a lot to harm them.

Rural California – and rural America – goes red because the Democrats have failed to speak for them or represent their interests and voting for Republicans is the only recourse available.  That could be fixed by moving to a multi-party system – moving away from America’s broken two-party system would give them a real voice for the first time.

There are a host of other issues that divide rural and urban Californians – gun rights being a common one.  California’s overly-centralized government means that people in rural and urban areas have the same gun laws even though the needs and values of urban and rural areas are radically different.  That’s frankly ridiculous.  It should be obvious that reasonable gun use looks different in Humboldt or the Sierras than it does in the urban Bay Area or LA.  Cities like San Francisco already have more restrictive laws in place – we should devolve this power to the local governments and let them decide what works for them based on local conditions.  That’s something neither American party will support, but that should be common sense for most Californians.  If we want to close this urban-rural divide, we need to start looking for more common-sense solutions that recognize and respect our ideological diversity.

So what about urban California?

California is, in many ways, the vision of America that we all read about in our high school social studies classes but that America has never actually been.  We’ve all heard of the melting pot but I’m always struck when I leave California by how little melting seems to actually happen.  In contrast, the suburban bay area town where I grew up had more than 70 languages being spoken on a daily basis. We are a nation defined, more than anything, by our inclusiveness.  While huge numbers of Americans spent the last 8 years obsessed with the idea that the president was secretly a Muslim, the vast majority of Californians know that – here at least – it doesn’t matter whether you’re an Atheist, Christian, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, or any of a hundred other faiths and belief systems. For urban California, where latinos outnumber white voters and where diversity is the norm, Trump’s call for mass deportations and banning muslims were met with disgust.  Most Californians know that muslims are more likely to be doctors or engineers than terrorists and we are outraged at proposals to build walls and deport our neighbors.  Our dominant urban industries are based on trade – from computers to aerospace to entertainment – and the prospect of trade wars with China and other trading partners is obvious bad news.  Trumps talk of “closing up the internet” just adds insult to industry.

 

As a whole, California rejected Trump more than 2 to 1 and we are largely responsible for Clinton’s narrow victory in the popular vote.  Unfortunately for us, we get less than one third the representation per person in the electoral college that people in states like Wyoming get.  That’s one reason why California’s electoral college votes haven’t determined the results of an American presidential election since 1870 – the list of US presidents since then would look exactly the same without us.   We’re also radically underrepresented in the Senate, the result of a compromise made in very different circumstances over two centuries ago and a continent away.  We’re even under-represented in the ironically named House of Representatives.  Is it any wonder our needs are ignored over and over again?

 

And so here we are, the 35th largest nation in the world and 5th biggest economy; subject to the whims of a president we overwhelmingly rejected and who is actively hostile to our interests.  Make no mistake, a Trump presidency is an assault on our core values of decency and compassion, as well as the civil rights of millions of Californians.  As Governor Brown pointed out not so long ago, our peers are nations like France and Canada, not wretched backwaters like Mississippi and Alabama.  The closest thing we have to a peer within the United States is Texas, and even they have only a fraction of our population or economy.  So why should we continue to let them impose actively hostile governments upon us?  Why do we waste our wealth subsidizing their crops and paying for military adventurism we opposed when our own nation is in such dire need?

 

It’s time for a new approach.  We need to leave America’s hyper-partisan divide behind and instead start investing in California and in a better future for all Californians, urban and rural alike.  

A bag of Avocados

Posted in News and Politics | Tagged ,

I was working on an article on the US presidential elections for another website earlier today and made an offhand remark that if the Democrats nominated a bag of Avocados for the presidency that California would faithfully line up and vote for it.  And then it hit me – a bag of Avocados would actually be a better nominee than either American party’s candidates.  Here’s 10 reasons you should join me in writing in a bag of avocados on your presidential ballot this fall.

1. Foreign policy

While it’s true that a bag of avocados doesn’t have much foreign policy experience, avocados are widely travelled – they’re grown in 57 different countries and exported and consumed world wide.  Moreover, everyone loves avocados – neither Trump or Clinton can come close to a bag of avocados in global opinion polls.  Finally, a bag of avocados is far less likely to get us into World War 5 (WWI, WWI, the Cold war, and the current ongoing neoliberal war being waged on the worlds poor via the WTO and various other treaties and trade organizations being the first 4) than either Hillary “Iraq is a business opportunity” Clinton or Donald “macho man” Trump.

2. The environment

Avocados understand the importance of rain that isn’t full of acid, air that isn’t polluted, and soil that isn’t full of toxic waste far better than Hillary “let’s frack everything” Clinton.  Even better, we can plant the avocado pits and grow trees.  Trees drink carbon dioxide and fight global warming.  I rest my case.

3. Trade and the economy

As mentioned in point 1, avocados have vast world experience and are a key part of a balanced breakfast, lunch, dinner, and trade portfolio.  A bag of avocados won’t sign the TPP or push through any other similar trade deals that continue the decades of class warfare that both American political parties have waged on behalf of their corporate backers.

4. Women’s rights:  

Avocados will not push to overturn Roe vs Wade or defund women’s health clinics like Trump/Pence would and they won’t drop bombs on poor women in Honduras/Iraq/Libya or sell weapons to regimes like Saudi Arabia that oppress women and execute LGBT people as HRC did as Secretary of State.  Instead, they will gracefully adorn your morning toast and lunch time hamburgers, add body to your post-yoga smoothie, and spread joy wherever they go.

5. Healthcare reform

Avocados are full of polyunsaturated fats – the good kind of fats – and surprisingly low on calories at only 234 calories in a medium-sized avocado.  They will promote healthy diets and the consumption of more fresh produce instead of the over-processed pre-packaged junk most americans eat far too much of.  They probably won’t deliver the healthcare reforms we so desperately need, but then neither will Clinton or Trump. While it’s true Avocados can be bought out by the HMO’s, they are the only candidate where we can say with honesty and certainty that campaign contributions will not impact their decisions about what legislation to sign into law.

6. Social Security

Avocados will not privatize social security as the Republicans want to do or raid social security to pay for wars and “balance the budget” as Bill Clinton did.  They won’t expand it the way Sanders wanted to either, but then with him out of the race that’s off the table anyway.  As a bonus, avocados are soft and easy to eat, even if you lost all your teeth during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and the new-age types claim they have powerful anti-aging properties.  That’s probably bullshit, but then so is literally every word out of Clinton and Trumps mouths.

7. Taxation and benefits

Unlike Clinton and Trump, Avocados will not give giant tax cuts to the super-rich that defund the government and create deficits that they then use as an excuse to cut social programs for poor people who are struggling to survive.

8. The Supreme Court

Unlike Clinton the Neo-liberal and Trump the neo-fascist, Avocados will not appoint evil bastards that put corporate interests above the needs of ordinary people to the Supreme Court.  In fact, they won’t appoint anyone to the Supreme Court.  And maybe that’s what we need for a while, after their idiotic Citizens United ruling, the entire Supreme Court needs to sit in time out for a few years and think about what they’ve done.

9. Integrity

Avocados tell no lies, they won’t set up private email servers to skirt the freedom of information act, they won’t turn the presidency into a kleptocracy, and they cannot be corrupted.  At the end of the day, you can trust a bag of avocados far more than any major party politician.  And if you don’t have trust what do you have?

10. Avocados are delicious

’nuff said.

So please join me in voting this November for your next president – a big bag of avocados

Walled Gardens

Posted in News and Politics, tech | Tagged , ,

Yesterday I put up a new post  on how to optimize your mobile app’s URI scheme.  The post is mostly technical but touches on a few important points – notably the fact that the mobile app ecosystem is a fragmented series of walled gardens.  This is in sharp contrast to the free and open web where anyone can add content and anyone can access it.

If you feel the way I do about free speech, feel free to insert your own rant here about the privatization of the (virtual) commons.  This is the digital equivalent of town squares where free speech was legally protected being replaced by malls where a rent a cop will firmly escort you off the premises if you try to do any sort of outreach. Continue reading

To be a man

Posted in Gender and Feminism, News and Politics | Tagged ,

I’ve self-identified as a feminist since my late teens and have been very vocal about it, sometimes to my own detriment.  Not that I’m some sort of knight in shining armor, I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way despite my best intentions and I can’t claim to be motivated entirely by altruism.  While I am very much interested in equality and women’s issues in their own right, I’ve always been at least as interested in what Feminism could potentially do for men.

If you’re raising your eyebrow incredulously right now you’re not alone. I remember attending a eco-activist conference in my early 20’s. The organizers had set aside a couple hours one afternoon to talk about the intersections of ecology and feminism in a woman-only space and, since they didn’t want the women to feel left out of any of the other discussions, hadn’t scheduled anything for the men. They just didn’t know what to do with us.

When I suggested to the assembled guys that perhaps we should talk about gender issues too they were a bit confused. One person suggested that a bunch of guys talking about feminism would, at best, be inherently sexist mansplaining (though he didn’t use that term since it didn’t exist yet). Another suggested that maybe we could talk about how to be better allies and a third echoed the first by saying he thought our best course there was to let the women lead and tell us what to do. The whole group was genuinely flabbergasted when I suggested that we might talk about our own issues as men from a feminist perspective. Men are inherently privileged by Patriarchy after all, what could we possibly have to deconstruct?

The thing is, it’s not that simple. Continue reading

A Parcel of Rogues

Posted in News and Politics | Tagged ,

It’s Sunday after the vote and I’m sitting in a park in Edinburgh, killing time.  I had intended to stay in Scotland another week to do more interviews about what’s next but now, with a 10 point spread on a No vote, I find myself too brokenhearted to continue.  Especially since Maia left for California this morning and I am once again traveling alone.  I’ve re-booked my flight but unfortunately the first available seat does not leave until Monday.  I shout out on Twitter and Facebook that I am here for another day and would like to talk about what’s next.  A few people re-tweet the message, but no one local replies.  They’re busy picking up the pieces and mourning.  I understand. Continue reading

Into the Highlands

Posted in News and Politics | Tagged ,

Sunrise came far too early and it’s off again. Today I am 34 years old and Scotland has a real chance at independence for the first time in over 300 years. My phone chimes repeatedly when I turn it on with birthday wishes from friends, coworkers, and clients. Today feels like a good day.

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After about an hour and a half of driving we arrive in Elgen, the road sign count has shifted back strongly in favor of Yes and we see a fair number of stickers and a few big flags as well. There doesn’t seem to be an actual Yes office in town, though there have apparently been a good number of events and the day is getting on by the time we get breakfast in our bellies so we decide to head on to Inverness (dubbed InverYESs by local activists).

We’re deep in the highlands now and there are no longer any No posters or signs anywhere in sight and big home-made Yes signs appear regularly.

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We make a stop along the way at the site of the Battle of Culloden, where my mothers Clan (The Ritchie’s) were almost wiped out holding the center of the Jacobite line. Culloden and the Jacobite’s conjure decidedly mixed feelings for me. On the one hand Prince Charles wanted absolute monarchy and was, in historical terms, little more than a pawn of the French whose army was financed with money from the French slave trade. But the Ritchie’s and others joined him out of the belief that he would restore the Scottish Parliament and give them back home rule – and because he promised religious tolerance.
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History is full of good people betrayed by their leaders and walking the battlefield I find myself in tears. I gather a few wildflowers and press them into a notebook to take home. To be here, today, gathering flowers on the day Scotland gets to finally vote on the act of union these men died to undo seems entirely appropriate. Continue reading

From Arbroath to Aberdeen

Posted in News and Politics | Tagged ,

Arbroath is a pretty little town on the east coast of Scotland, just to the east of Dundee.  Driving past, you might not think much of it, but way back in 1320 a group of Scottish nobles signed a declaration that they would never under any circumstances allow themselves to be subjugated to rule from England and that they fought “not for wealth or position but for liberty, which no good man gives up except with his life.”

The document is incredibly important to world history because it was the first declaration of its type to establish the concept of popular sovereignty – that Scotland belonged to her people and a king was only worth supporting if he could protect and defend them.  This was at least as revolutionary as their desire for independence.  American school children are taught about the Magna Carta because it was accepted as a legal document by the English political system, but the Declaration of Arbroath was a far more important touch stone for the American founding fathers and directly inspired the American Declaration of Independence. Continue reading

Perception and Possibilities in Perth

Posted in News and Politics | Tagged ,

I’ve just arrived in Perth, about an hour north of Edinburgh.  The drive up was pretty enough – rolling green hills and trees dotted with houses under a foggy Scottish sky.  Along the way we saw 3 Yes signs and the first No lawn sign I’ve seen so far on the trip.

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We’re heading to the Perth / Kinross Yes campaign HQ. I saw online that a bunch of activists will be meeting there to go leaflet around noon and I’m hoping to get some interviews in. We find parking not too far off and duck into a the first restaurant we see in search of breakfast but they don’t open until noon. The lady is tired having just flown from California via Toronto and desperately wants hot food and beer, I promise her an epic lunch and she munches on the remainder of a grilled cheese with a look on her face like a kid who just lost her favorite baseball over the fence.

Perth has the feel of a relatively bourgeois suberb with big yards and flowers everywhere. I’m wondering if the campaign here will be different from the bigger cities to the south which were very much driven by the culture and ethos of recently de-industrialized workers who feel betrayed by the Labour party and hope for a better future in an independent Scotland. Continue reading

Rock star mojo

Posted in News and Politics | Tagged ,

It’s a quarter after 6 and I’m standing in a line a block long outside a nightclub in downtown Glasgow to see Tommy Sheridan (@citizentommy) – a well known socialist organizer and activist – speak.  The is the last of 110 speaking engagements like it that he’s done since January and YouTube footage of some of the others has drawn a firestorm of both positive and negative comments and hundreds of thousands of views.  Tommy is interesting because he’s famous for his writing and speaking in a way that just doesn’t happen in the U.S.   Noam Chomsky can sell millions of books, but you’d never see NBC or Fox invite him on to talk about why we can afford to bomb Syria when we’re cutting budgets for everything else.

wpid-wp-1410888253625.jpegInside, the mood is electric – the hall is so packed people end up sitting in the aisles. As the event is about to start we are informed that there are another 500+ people lined up outside who can’t fit in the space, so they’ll be cutting the length of the talk in half and have a second meeting after for all the people waiting outside. Continue reading