Sunday, June 26, 2016


Do you have a problem when others are dogmatic -- that is, when they express strong opinions as if they were facts?

Should we care whether someone is stating an authoritative belief without adequate justification?

Do we need to guard against dogmatism? Why?

If yes, how can we best do so?

Are you sometimes dogmatic?

What do you think?

Your thoughts would be appreciated. I’ll report on responses and identify the author unless you request anonymity.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Day Driving

When people ask me about what it’s like to drive a taxi, I have to say the fares all blur together and offer some generalities. So yesterday, using voice-activated emails, I sent myself notes after each fare. Little did I know that it would be such an eventful day!

1.      Young Latina woman going to work in accounting at Yellow Cab.  Has worked there three weeks. Likes it's okay so far.
2.      Young woman, head scientist for stem cell bank. Loves her job. Important work. Going to a conference at Moscone Center. Good conversation about the Presidential campaigns. We were very much on the same wavelength.
3.      Young woman event planner. Less than enthusiastic about going to work. Not very talkative.
4.      Young Latina going to get her passport renewed. Headed to Guadalajara for vacation and in one week. Not very talkative
5.      Young woman having a scattered day. Lost her sunglasses. After hearing NPR report on the Democratic occupation of the House floor, I asked, “Did you hear that?” “No.” As I told her, I choked up with tears, overcome with emotion. She was also excited about it and told me  about a great New Yorker article on gun control, “Making a Killing.”
6.      An ex-convict who was displaced from his apartment by a fire. Does not like the homeless shelter. After living in a cell for decades he doesn't like crowds. Expects to get his apartment back 2 years after the renovation. Complained vociferously about Department of Corrections not doing rehabilitation but just warehousing people.
7.      Elderly Latina with walker and a caregiver going from Senior Center to her house.
8.      Young black woman bookkeeper for the LGBT community center. Give me a report on what she heard on TV about the sit-in. Likes her job.

Passing by the Asian Art Museum, I stopped to take this photo of a sculpture out front, “Dragon Fortune.”

9.      Middle-aged man going to Medical Center for a colonoscopy. We discussed MRIs. I told him that during mine, I kept telling myself, “John Cage would love this.”
10.   Young black woman with cane. Short trip to get a haircut
11.   60 year old advertising woman. I mentioned the sit-in and she said, “Yahoo.” We discussed gun control politics along the way.
12.   Visiting software engineer. I asked him, “Is Trump actually going to get the nomination?” H replied, “Good question.”
13.   Elderly Chinese women and family from Chinatown to the Richmond.
14.   Young visiting Russian woman and her parents.
15.   Two men from Sageway to the Tenderloin. Not very talkative.
16.   Two Germans from one Holiday Inn to another.
17.   Two Brits to Palace of Fine Arts.
18.   Young woman going to Starbucks so she could have an hour long online conversation.

Driving through Fisherman’s Wharf, I took this photo of Benny Bufano’s St. Francis of Assisi sculpture with Coit Tower and the Pyramid in the background.

19.   Middle-aged couple from Maui from North Beach to Fisherman's Wharf
20.  Two young Italians from Fisherman's Wharf to Japanese Tea Garden. I asked what Italians think about their Pope. “We love him. It was hard to like a German Pope.” I replied, “Especially when he was a stereotypical German.” As they left the cab, I said, “Thank you for the Pope.”

Friday, June 17, 2016

Platform Progress

The Democratic Party is beginning to take its platform seriously. That development may help us rebuild the Party into an activist organization that fights for its platform year-round.

When I discuss that possibility with my taxi passengers, they respond enthusiastically.

Last night, Bernie Sanders, in his address to more than 200,000 supporters, said:

I look forward, in the coming weeks, to continue discussions between the two campaigns to make certain that your voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda. I also look forward to working with Secretary Clinton to transform the Democratic Party so that it becomes a party of working people and young people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors (emphases added).

This year’s drafting process is a step in the direction of full, deliberate participation. A series of public hearings are being held to elicit testimony and Democrats have been invited to submit written testimony, as did I with "To the Drafting Committee: Build a Strong Party."

In an unprecedented move, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) invited the losing candidate, Sanders, to place a significant number of members on the platform drafting committee. In addition, the DNC itself placed on that committee other Democrats who have strong progressive credentials.

On June 15, concerning the drafting process, the New Republic concluded:

The platform is only as powerful as those willing to use it, and last week’s events suggest great interest in making it a foundational document rather than an afterthought. In the short term, the platform can build a peace between Sanders and Clinton. In the long term, it’s how lasting change gets forged (emphases added).

Bernie's commitment to help transform the Democratic Party into an organization that fights for its platform reinforces that possibility.

No doubt, as the New Republic detailed in “The Split,” the Party faces “a series of deep and growing fissures among Democrats, along a wide range of complex fault lines—from age and race to gender and ideology.” But as Hillary has said, those differences largely concern means, not ends.

Bernie’s simple soundbites worked well for his campaign. But as Mark Schmitt argued in a New York Times op-ed, the issues are complicated. Formulating agreement on policy positions will require sophistication and flexibility. Hopefully, Bernie and his supporters will demonstrate those skills, which does not preclude some votes at the convention.

By reminding one another of how rank-and-file Democrats agree on basic long-term goals and values, hopefully we can keep our differences in context, and compromise concerning short-term methods. Then, over the course of the next four years, we can study the issues, follow developments, and engage in the drafting of the next platform.

Those who fail this year can push their position during the next cycle and perhaps prevail then. Regardless, without anyone violating any of their core principles, hopefully most Democrats will be largely supportive of the platform that emerges, without discounting the value of angry gadflies and other approaches.

Then, with a resolve not to forget about the platform after the convention, Democrats can experiment with ways to fight for that platform.

Here, here, and here, I’ve argued for developing precinct-based clubs that would enable neighbors to work together to build the Party. That effort could nurture face-to-face community, which could help fill a void that is growing in modern society. By addressing that and other local needs, the Party could help expand its base of active members, who could learn from one another how to become more effective activists. They could, for example, study and discuss the platform throughout the year so they could better discuss it with others.

A few weeks ago I proposed to Democratic clubs in San Francisco that they engage in year-round precinct organizing and “encourage the entire Democratic Party to do the same.” Two days ago, the District Five Democratic Club, which covers my neighborhood, told me that they “would be interested in working together on this effort” and invited me to attend their next meeting and “discuss your goals and plans.”

That response is encouraging. Hopefully the club will ask the San Francisco Democratic Party to undertake ongoing precinct organizing. If potential participants know that the project is a city-wide effort to establish a model that could spread nationwide, they might be more likely to participate.

One thoughtful friend has advised that we focus on defeating Trump and “when that's done, get back to movement-building.” He said he does not see “a long-term call increasing get-out-the-vote efforts between now and November.”

I disagree. I believe a positive, longer-term vision could inspire many currently inactive people to participate more than a narrow, negative, short-term focus on defeating Trump. That is especially true if Trump continues to self-destruct. (His chances of winning on Predictwise, which is highly reliable, has fallen from 40% to 25%.)

It’s not either/or. Self-organizing precinct clubs need not require major funding or take away from other efforts. Rather, by attracting inactive people with an inspiring vision, it could increase available person-hours. Moreover, with crowdfunding appeals for financial contributions to specifically support year-round precinct organizing, people who relate to this particular idea might provide the minimal required funding.

By focusing heavily on the next election, Democrats have neglected building a real Party that can help them win future elections. As with businesses and personal lives, this short-term focus on immediate gratification ultimately undermines growth.

Though it can be improved, the Democratic Party structure is already remarkably democratic. If like-minded people forge enough unity and assert themselves within that structure, we can transform the Party into an activist organization that fights for its platform and serves local needs year-round.

The 2016 platform may be a tool to enhance that transformation.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

After California

To be effective, we must overcome our fragmentation and build a national, multi-issue organization with muscle that can quickly mobilize supporters in a timely manner.

Fortunately, Bernie has built a network that can help form that powerful, bottom-up, grassroots coalition focused on national policy. He’s already won. What’s most important is building that organization. After California, Bernie should declare victory and help us build that organization.

Recently, here, here, here, and here, I’ve presented some ideas about how we could proceed to advance political revolution. Most respondents have said those ideas are sensible.

But Bernie may stick with his top-down, ideology-driven approach.

When Tavis Smiley asked him if has learned from mistakes made during the campaign, the only specific he shared was that he should have “reached out” more, as he was doing by appearing on that show. He needs to go deeper.

To become more effective, we need to learn from the weaknesses in Bernie’s campaign. Those weaknesses are reflected in much of our activism.

Bernie’s single-issue focus on economic justice is limiting. Even now, after months of criticism, for example, he and his supporters rarely use the words “racism” and “sexism,” much less talk about the need to examine our own conditioning and monitor our own behavior.

Economic populism is not enough. We also, as Hillary has, need to affirm intersectional politics and the importance of becoming more compassionate in our personal lives.

Bernie has exposed the myth that Big Money controls the system. He will not fail to get the nomination because the system is rigged or because “the Establishment” undercut him. He has come up short because there were problems with both the message and the messenger.

Big Money is a big problem. But Big Money is not in control. We the people have the power. But rather than uniting, individuals and individual organizations focus on their own self-interest. We thereby relinquish power to those who administer our social system.

Another problem with Bernie and many other progressives is the heavy reliance on ideas. The goal is to persuade others to do what we want them to do.

Instead, we need to build organizations that inspire collaboration and enable people to work together as co-equals to create new ideas.

In my taxi, when I ask, “Are you following the Presidential campaigns,” I am repeatedly impressed with how informed, concerned, and astute my passengers are. We need to develop new inspiring opportunities for those people to collaborate.

How to structure our organizations needs attention. Instead, activists focus on policies.

My passengers, most of whom support Bernie, have told me that neither they nor anyone they know will fail to vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination. That’s a relief. It seems the “Bernie or Bust” caucus, though loud on social media, is small.

A number of people I respect who’ve voted for Bernie or have been planning to vote for him in California have told me their enthusiasm is declining. Their reasons merit attention. The problem is not Bernie's politics. They still support his principles. The issue is Bernie’s style.

They complain about his “rant,” find him too “self-righteous,” don’t care for his ad hominem attacks on Hillary, and/or worry that he will fight too hard too long, thereby hurting the Democratic Party and Hillary’s chances in November.

One of my passengers, Judy Reuter, later emailed me:

I think Sanders has become less focused on his ideas and more focused on simply trying to win the Democratic nomination via character assassination.  I'm not sure why he has taken this turn, but I believe this makes it less likely that he will change any moderate minds.  Instead of persuading people to recognize the value of his progressive ideas, his tactics have a polarizing effect, with the result that now he is preaching only to the choir.  Anyone who doesn't agree with his negative view of Clinton will simply stop taking Sanders seriously on any subject, and will have less interest in supporting any progressive ideas that might make their way into the party platform.

Sanders was doing a good thing for the country and for the Democratic party when he was getting people to listen and take his ideas seriously.   I believe his turn to negative campaigning has caused him to lose a lot of ground with people whose minds might have been changed but who will react badly to what will be seen as the progressives' attempt to hijack the party machinery with strong-arm tactics.  Democratic voters needed persuasion to become more progressive.   An attempted hostile takeover of the Democratic convention is going to have the opposite effect.

I keep thinking about the anti-LBJ, anti-Humphrey movement in the sixties, in which we all expressed our disdain for "the establishment" and ended up with Richard Nixon for our troubles; or the Ralph Nader supporters whose rejection of the Democratic Party and its nominee helped give us Bush the Second.  This time the possible consequence of Sanders' supporters trashing Clinton's reputation is the unthinkable election of Donald Trump.  This cannot be allowed to happen.

Hillary Clinton is not transparent. She’s guarded, chooses her words carefully, wants to be loved by everyone, including the 1%, and shifts with the wind. It’s impossible to know what she really believes.

That lack of transparency means it’s impossible to declare she’s corrupt. We can’t read her mind. We can’t know if and when she acts dishonestly.

And her flexibility is a strength. With elected officials, the ability to compromise is valuable. If she’s elected and we the people pressure her, she will listen. Non-ideological pragmatism rooted in humanistic values holds more potential than does economic populism.

I no longer fear a Trump victory. He’s proving to be incompetent and the media is beginning to challenge him.

But I am still worried that Bernie and his supporters, rather than merely pushing their positions respectfully, will go into the Democratic convention with an uncompromising fury that will hurt the Party and undermine prospects for transforming it. 

If he wins California, that scenario is more likely. So, though I still believe economic justice should be a major plank in a transformative platform, I voted for Hillary in the California primary.

Some old friends will therefore dismiss me as an “enemy,” which is at the heart of our problem.