Thursday, November 16, 2017

#MeToo2

Things are moving fast in the media's exposure of sexual assault, and now it's become surprising. Surprising to start reassessing Clinton or Anita Hill in light of today's This Shall Not Stand attitudes, surprising to see how far we've come since Trump's Billy Bush conversation a year ago. Surprising how my sense of outrage links directly to my politics—Al Franken? Nooooo—or my appreciation of someone's talents (Kevin Spacey? Louis CK? Nooooo), whereas I completely embrace the downfall of pseudo-Christian right-wing loons and have a sort of schadenfreude when it comes to Woody Allen.

While Senators squirm anxiously and wonders whether they could stomach seating the hideous Roy Moore, should he win his seat in Alabama, I wonder how many of them are pondering whether they could survive amplified scrutiny of their own careers—the airing of photos, the youthful hijinks that bordered on abuse.

I would so love to relitigate Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation. That would be sweet.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The New Megaphone

A group with more time on its hands than most of us is tracking the Russian social media that allegedly interfered with our 2016 election. It's an impressive array of stuff aimed to take advantage of American divisions and identity politics.

Meanwhile, people on the right and the left continue to say "No votes were changed" by this particular kind of interference, as though only direct hacking into voting machines could make a difference, as though messaging has no relevance to political choices, as though the election of a brainless oligarch were inevitable because [Hillary/Amerika/blue collar jobs/your best guess here].

Of course, that is bullshit. And now I know it's bullshit, because I have witnessed close at hand how easily an election can be hijacked using only social media. Our recent NYS Constitutional Convention vote was a test case in this brave new world of issue-branding.

Now, NYS has voted against holding a Convention before. In 1858, 1916, 1957, 1977, 1997—people decided against it  for a variety of reasons. But that was before we were the land of indictments, fighting Illinois for the title of Most Corrupt State in the Union.

Take a look at how polls rated the likelihood of a yes vote on the ConCon over the course of 2017. From 64-24 percent YES in August to 57-25 percent NO in November—that's a massive swing in a short period of time. What caused it? Did NYS clean up its act? Did the legislature convince people that it could police itself and pass the amendments the people requested? Not exactly.

THE PENSION THING

I started seeing social media posts from NYSUT back in early summer, along with posts from a group that called itself New Yorkers Against Corruption, a slick name for an organization that actually fought to retain New York corruption and the status quo. If you go to NYAC's website, you find, in the small print, a contact called Thomas Meara at a company called Kivvit. By its own admission, Kivvit "designs and manages campaigns with the issue and client outcome in mind." It is a large PR firm that works for clients such as Ford and Comcast. Tom Meara himself has an interesting resume and has done union work.

The main thrust of NYSUT's and NYAC's posts was that a ConCon would eliminate public employee pensions. This rapidly evolved online, in the thrilling game of Telephone that social media mirrors, into the ConCon's taking away existing pensions. As far as I can tell, the unions were the only ones suggesting this as a probable result of the ConCon. Since no delegates yet existed, nobody was touting the removal of pensions as a campaign promise. In a state with nearly half a million people employed in el-hi education alone, the threat of pension reform is significant. It didn't matter whether the method was simply voting to eradicate public pensions, or voting to allow the money from the pension fund to be used for other purposes—both of which I saw described online—the threat galvanized a NO vote with public employees and rapidly moved via shares and retweets to involve supporters of teachers, supporters of fire fighters (rarely the same people), and many people for whom a pension was just a distant dream. It did not matter that the NYS pension system has gone through radical changes via legislation and renegotiation, from Tier 1 now to Tier 6. The thought of putting their hard-earned coin in the People's hands was more than public employees could bear.

The high point of the union blitz, as far as I'm concerned, came when a union leader went on the radio to tout a no vote to keep big money out of politics. The money spent by the unions in opposition far exceeded any money put up by ConCon supporters. It is worth remembering that the unions, in conjunction with a few other groups, were primarily responsible for the failure of the vote in 1997 as well, back when we had no examples like Wisconsin to suggest that New York might screw its public workforce.

THE ENVIRONMENT THING

At the same time that this Save the Pension social media blitz was going on, environmental groups were sharing their own Save Forever Wild concerns via social media. For every ten pension posts I saw, there was perhaps one environmental post. And whenever I mentioned that Forever Wild had in fact been created via Constitutional Conventions in 1894 and 1938, I got a flurry of lists of Good Guy Conservation Agencies who were urging a no vote. This despite the fact that we've been chipping away at Forever Wild legislatively over the last decades.

A PAUSE TO REFLECT

It's worth thinking about how Facebook works. My tendency to click on political and educational posts means that Facebook is eager to throw political and educational posts my way. That might easily explain the ten-to-one pension posts I saw compared to environmental posts. But my guess is that money talked, and the unions spent so much that it was only natural that pension posts overwhelmed environmental posts even on the feeds of environmentalists. It would be interesting to compare notes.

THE MERCER THING

Somewhere around late August, I started reading posts urging a no vote because the Mercers, Steve Bannon, and ReclaimNY were urging a yes vote. This one took off like wildfire, multiplying throughout the intertubes like the zombie apocalypse. Attaching the names Mercer and Bannon to anything was enough to electrify the left. It did not matter one bit that ReclaimNY had actually decided to back down on their initial tendency to vote yes because they did not trust that existing legislators would not be delegates. The entire Constitutional Convention was now an alt-right conspiracy.

MORE TELEPHONY

Some of this Mercer thing was a corruption of an actual Mercer-led blueprint for holding a Constitutional Convention via Article V—of the U.S. Constitution, not the NYS Constitution. There is a difference. One is a literary work of genius. The other is a pedestrian how-to document. Perhaps misled by this conflation, people started posting in the fall about "saving our constitution," as though something that tells us how bingo and lotto are to be regulated were a precious work of art. By this point, it was no longer clear to me who was behind any of the posts I was reading. The "no" signs all over the state were union-bought, but the many tentacles of nuttiness now crowding out the pension and Forever Wild stories seemed to be spontaneous.

THE COST THING

Shot down rather quickly late last summer, but too late to do any actual good, was the notion that a ConCon would cost the people of New York $300 million. The Rockefeller Institute, which tried like Peter at the dike to poke their fingers in all the holes erupting around the ConCon, found this erroneous number perpetrated by various public officials. Although a series of stories appeared in media around the state saying that the number was specious and probably five or six times the real cost, the truth mattered little by that point.

THE PUBLIC OFFICIAL THING

In 1997, hero and would-be Assembly reformer Richard Brodsky strongly supported the Constitutional Convention against his legislative leadership, and so did Governor Mario Cuomo. As ConCons make strange bedfellows, they were joined in their yes votes by Tom Golisano, Rudy Giuliani, and ChangeNY. This year, you had to look long and hard to find a legislator in favor of the Convention, and although Governor Andrew Cuomo pretended to lean yes, he danced a little sidestep the day before the vote and announced his plan to vote no.

THE OUR GOVERNMENT WORKS JUST FINE THING

The weirdest motif that occurred late in the battle was the one that suggested that our system of altering the Constitution worked fabulously well as it was. I've written before about how bizarre this logic was. In just a few months, we had entirely lost the thread of corruption and dysfunction and landed in a place where all was well, so why rock the boat.

BACK TO RUSSIA

If you don't believe votes can be changed by persistent, false messaging, I give you New York State from August through November of 2017. I believe that if "yes" organizations had been quicker on the uptake (and had unlimited funds and a great PR firm), they could have fought back with credible arguments and changed some minds, or at least retained their original advantage. As it was, they mostly wrung their hands and ceded the field. Those of us who watch NYS politics with a jaded eye (and who have actually read the Constitution) could only stomp out miscellaneous flareups with no hope of actually ending the firestorm. New York now gets to putz around until 2037, content in the knowledge that its people don't really want substantial change. And maybe Russia will hire Kivvit in 2018—I'm sure they'll accept rubles if the price is right.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The SALT Vote

Am I the only person to think that Reed and Collins voted for the SALT deduction in a careful calculation among the NY delegation about whose seats were least vulnerable?

If you think you're immune to ouster, you can support the White House without repercussions. I consider it a really bad sign.

Monday, October 23, 2017

YES

Simon, Paul, and I penned a letter urging a YES vote on the Constitutional Convention.

We have been looking forward to a convention for maybe ten years. I hoped for a definition of "sound, basic education" and some truly forward-thinking school funding plans. Paul wanted to rid the state of the millions of dollars of waste caused by antique regulations. Simon had a vision of cleaning up Albany using a bulldozer instead of a blindfold and tweezers.

This year's "NO" brigade has been a solemn reminder of what the age of social media hath wrought: No thinking, just a lot of heat spread like lightning at the click of a button. Shame on public union leadership, which struck fear into members' hearts with threats of a disappearing pension when pensions have been disappearing since Tier 1 morphed into 2, and 3, and 4... and 7. Shame on organizations like NYCLU, who pretend to push until push comes to shove and they get cold feet and decide to stick with the devil they know. (Whoa, block that idiom!) Shame on anyone who mistook the Kochs' desire for a US ConCon for our own 20-year state vote, usually through application of poor reading skills and a desire to jump on any progressive-sounding bandwagon that would have him or her. Shame on everybody who pushed bullshit propaganda like the canard about "no vote equals a yes vote!" Shame on our elected officials for pretending that their despotic, restrictive means of putting amendments on the ballot is in any way good for the People of NY. Shame on New Yorkers who are appalled by the state of the state but use magical thinking to assume that the state can fix itself if only we squeeze our eyes shut and just... believe.

We are outnumbered, at least on the IJ editorial page and in the signs and messages we see. Enjoy the next 20 years, NY. We don't intend to stick around much longer to see the mess you've made.

Monday, October 16, 2017

#MeToo

I don't know why it took Harvey Weinstein to trigger people's memories, but the #MeToo on social media is just about unbearable. Simon shared a post from a friend who took her own experiences for granted but was powerfully moved to think that her daughter's experiences might differ.

I never took my experiences for granted, nor did I think they were okay, whether they involved early-morning frottage on a crowded subway, groping by strangers on an airplane or in a Caribbean bar, salacious questioning by the blind father of the shyster rabbis I worked for in Queens fresh out of school, or the pimping out of young editors to salesmen at a publishing company in my late 20s. I just got good at deflecting, shifting, moving, blocking, elbowing, ignoring, or finding the one nice married, middle-aged guy who just wanted to share a beer and some conversation.

I'm reading Roxane Gay's Hunger, which seems timely, because it's not just about how we inhabit our bodies, although it's very much about that, but it's also about violent sexual assault. Her story isn't my story, thank God, nor is my story anyone else's story, yet all the stories are the same, sad story, and none of them comes as a surprise.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Facts Are Hard

I read this Leonard Pitts piece today on "When ignorance is impervious to fact," and it resonated with me. This morning I had the following conversation with a Dryden resident (online, of course). He messaged the Dryden Democrat FB page a long screed about what the Dryden GOP claims is a 50% tax increase. I said that the problem was that they were talking about the levy and not the rate, so it was misleading. He said who did I think paid the levy. I said he and I and all the new developments in town, which was why we're not paying a 50% rate. He said even the real increase per year made it bad management. I said that the town has fewer employees than before the recession and cut appropriations $200K last year. I even pointed out that the new budget was aiming for a flat rate.

Whereupon he said, "Sorry not voting for your party this year. Time for a change. Let's make Dryden great again."

Whereupon I said, "Your side isn't talking about the cut in appropriations or the $3.6 million the town got from the state for bridge improvements based on stable finances—but you vote you! Facts are hard."

Whereupon he said, "Yes they are. Cut it however you want. Your party lost the presidential vote. Hopefully it will go the same in Dryden."

Which leads me to Pitts:
 But it is important to understand that the disconnect media face does not stem from failure to report the facts.
Rather, it stems from some people’s failure to want them.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Flagrant Sexual Hypocrisy

As Trump rolls back the birth control mandate, this article on sexual hypocrisy is pitch-perfect.
It’s a child, not a choice, abortion opponents tell us. Unless the pregnancy is embarrassing and super-inconvenient and an impediment to your political future, in which case it’s merely a clump of cells.