How's that Working Out For You? Adventures in Democracy, was Teaching Industrial Relations in Vietnam

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

March 10 primaries — March 10, 2020

March 10 primaries

Today Washington State, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Mississippi and Democrats abroad are voting. Bernie has spent most of the week in Michigan, which he won in 2016 but where he is predicted to “have problems” this time. Cory Booker is out campaigning for Biden. So far, all the other ex-candidates of note (except Elizabeth and Tom Steyer) have endorsed Biden. People under 40 double digits pro-Bernie; the older folks are pro-Biden. Tulsi Gabbard is still in the race, apparently. How did that happen? She got 15% of some poll? Or someone decided that the two-white-men race suddenly didn’t look good?

Protesters disrupted a Biden rally in Michigan last night. Watch it. Watch Biden look around in confusion — then hear him ask if the protestors if they are Trump supporters; then he says the Bernie Bros are here:

Working Families, which had endorsed Elizabeth, has now endorsed Bernie.

Here is a link to what unions have endorsed a candidate;

Meanwhile, Italy has locked down internal travel because of the corona virus, the Grand Princess is unloading its sick or contagious passengers into Oakland (they will be transferred to two military bases in CAS or somewhere in Georgia), the Dow is down hundreds of points and MIT is closing its dormitories. Lots of desperate-sounding email messages about “democratic unity” from the Democratic Unity Fund, etc.

This is the guy that we’ll have to get exited about in order to help him beat Trump:

It won’t happen.

Votes in as of 10 pm Tuesday night, Biden carries Michigan 51-35 (delegates), Missouri 41-23-, Mississippi 39-2, Idaho 47-42, but Bernie is ahead in North Dakota 44.7 – 34.2 and in Washington State, with 67% of votes in, it’s Bernie 32.7 to Biden 32.5.

March 8, the two-man race — March 8, 2020

March 8, the two-man race

Now things pivot to it being a two-man race –two old white men. Bernie has to make a different kind of speech — not his regular stump speech that covers all his issues. Now he’s got to differentiate himself from Biden. Here he is in Arizona on March 6, before going to Detroit for the Michigan Primary on Tuesday the 10th:

He begins by acknowledging that it’s a two-man race, the winner has to take on Trump. Trump will use anything, true or false, to attack — you can see it already in what he’s doing to attack Biden. Bernie does not list what Trump has done or might do to attack him. He doesn’t mention it — it would just give Trump more weapons. Let Trump figure it out. Bernie also says that he will support the nominee and has said so all along; he and Biden are friends, and Biden has “indicated” that he would support Bernie. Then Bernie moves into comparing their records: Bernie was on the right side in NAFTA, TPPR, the Hyde Amendment, the Defense of Marriage Act, the Iraq War, and Don’t Ask-Don’t tell. “These were difficult votes. Which candidate has the guts to cast the right vote at a difficult time? ….I was on the right side.”

Most of the questions are about turnout and demographics of the horse race: seniors (who are more conservative); African Americans, youth. Someone asks about a swastika that was apparently displayed at a rally last night (that would have been March 5) and Bernie doesn’t dwell on it; he thanks the police for handling it and turns the topic to the horrors of fascism.

Although sometimes he seems to be referring to notes, he is calm, steady, competent, informed, and fully in control of the way his personal story ands record has to be publicly compared to Biden’s. Joe points out that he’s using the pronoun “I” more often now — yes, because it’s now him vs Biden.

Bernie Surrogate Linda Sansour

On Al Jazeera the moderator is interviewing “national Bernie surrogate” Linda Sansour and Lindy Li from the Biden campaign. Both women. Linda Sansour is dressed in full Muslim women’s clothes, head scarf,etc. She is way ahead of the Biden surrogate (not called a surrogate — she’s called a spokesperson, I think). Sansour is strong, confident, informed, articulate, adult — a very good example!! The two women actually get into an argument and the moderator allows Sansour to go ahead; the Biden spokesperson, Lindy, seems to scramble for ways to make points. She (Linda) references her family’s experience in Communist China when the question of socialism comes up.

What about Elizabeth Warren?

So far, no word from her. Jesse Jackson has endorsed Bernie. Kamala has endorsed Biden.

It’s International Women’s Day, too. From The Nation, part of an article describing the role of sexism in Elizabeth Warren’s failed campaign:

Kamala Harris was held to devastating account for her record that genuinely troubled criminal justice reformers, while Biden gets a pass for actually writing the laws people are now desperate to reform. Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign didn’t even get off the ground because people resented her for holding Al Franken to account. (Yes, I’m aware that Tulsi Gabbard is technically still in this race. No, I have no idea why.)

Well, yes, plenty of sexism at work in this campaign. For an experiment, I tried imagining Elizabeth in men’s clothing and with a man’s self-presentation. (I really like the way she chose to dress, by the way; narrow black pants, black top, and then these loose but shaped smocks of different colors. Eileen Fisher? Comfortable, not like the pantsuits of the Hillary campaign period.) Anyway, sorry for the digression. I would say that if Elizabeth had been a man but was otherwise exactly the same, she would be the undoubted candidate.

A day later: I’ve been criticized now both for mentioning Elizabeth’s clothes and for calling Biden “limp,” in each case because they show sexism but especially because using the word “limp” is a lot rougher than mentioning clothes. I let my remarks stay in because my impulse to say them was so strong that I wanted to put it out there and see why. So later I got another glimpse. I have a friend back East who told me she just voted for Elizabeth. “I voted for her because she is a woman,” she said proudly, but added, “You probably think I should have voted for Bernie.” Well, yes, I said, and the conversation went on, covering a lot of topics including her recent job searches, which have turned up nothing but short-term barista gigs. She has also experienced extended homelessness and struggled to get on various kinds of public assistance. She is, in fact, an academic, but one who never got one of those jobs. I knew most of this already but the penny suddenly dropped: a vote for Elizabeth is a vote for what she herself could have been. I said, “You know, in the country that Bernie’s agenda would give us, with Medicare for All, free college tuition, higher minimum wage, forgiveness of student debt — you would have a social safety net under you that would make your life a lot less dangerous and scary.” Sudden silence on the end of the line.

So identifying with the candidate is a big deal. Who is going to identify with Biden, though?

Friday March 6 2020 — March 7, 2020

Friday March 6 2020

The delegate count is now 664 to Biden 573 to Sanders. A difference of 91. Still counting in California. Biden creeping up.

Larry Hendel and Joe Berry, coordinating the Labor for Bernie network for Northern California.
Larry Hendel and Joe Berry are cordinating the Northern California Labor for Bernie (L4B) network; so far about 5 messages gone out, list still getting tuned up but responses coming in

The COVID-19 virus, we are told, will eventually reach everyone. The best website information is at:

And today, in case anyone was wondering if we do or don’t need a full-on national health plan and a national health service, a judge in Texas struck down Obamacare in its entirety, including coverage for preexisting conditions and for children under 26.

Happy Birthday

A lively birthday dinner for our neighbor, with a guest list averaging age 70, myself being on the upper end. Twelve people eating and drinking and talking. Some Bernie supporters, some Warren supporters, perhaps a Biden supporter here or there — I can’t tell, because not everyone confessed to whom they voted or campaigned for.

Our host spoke of the concept “least harm,” meaning that you would support the person who would be likely to do yourself and your community the least harm. Biden would be that candidate; a stretch of smooth road ahead, at least for a while.

For someone my age, who may or may not be around to see a second term of the new president, that might be an attractive choice. “He would get me through to 80 years old and that’s enough,” I might say. After that, let whatever happens happen.

However, given the climate crisis and all the other crises that are aspects of that, I see that no matter who is elected — Trump, Bernie, or Biden – we will be moving steadily into a deepening conflict over how to manage our communities. So instead of a road that leads to the single destination of the November election, I see a sequence of landmarks on a road that goes beyond that. First, the rest of the primaries; then the convention; then, no matter who the candidate is, the election; then the inauguration and then the next term beyond that. Each of these changes the context for the next landmark. All of these, no matter who wins the primaries and becomes the candidate, take place in this landscape of fallout from the climate crisis (wildfires, storms, pandemics, drought here in California, hurricanes like the F-4 one on Super Tuesday in Tennessee that killed 18 people) but also energetic grassroots struggle by the people who are currently involved in the Bernie campaign and who are also committed to a different kind of country.

So Biden becoming the candidate won’t stop the movement that supports Bernie from continuing to organize and push forward. Electing Biden won’t mean buying a few miles of straight road; it will just mean that the work will continue at the bottom, at the grassroots level. This will look like conflict, if the massive teacher strikes of 2018-19 looked like conflict. The 1000 Grandmothers blocking a street to protest fossil fuel probably looks like conflict. I guess the firing of 54 grad student employees at UC Santa Cruz looks like conflict, too. It certainly feels like conflict to them. But the version of conflict carried on by the right involves not only legal measures (like knocking down Obamacare) but also guns, cars being driven into crowds, etc. To say nothing of putting children in cages on the border. So all this will escalate.

Still coming on — March 6, 2020

Still coming on

Vote count by state, as they are still being counted

This morning Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the race. She did not turn around and jump to endorse anyone, the way Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klochubar did. She’s waiting and thinking. That sounds right. It looks as if the votes that went to her were probably votes that might have gone to Bernie, so they cost him some states. And he cost her votes, too.

Biden’s delegates have crept up during the late count, by 1 in Colorado, to 10 for Biden and 20 for Bernie, and by more in California. It’s now 186 for Bernie and 146 for Biden, 15 for Bloomberg and 5 for Warren. Still counting, as far as I can see.

Rachel Maddow interviewed Bernie last night and he said that, as far as he was concerned, the person with the most delegates at the convention wins the nomination. No second ballot, no super-delegates. This is brave and smart. It focuses on his ground game and challenges the other candidates to win on the basis of what people actually choose when they vote in their primary. It defies the corporate Dems who have lined up super delegates to fix any problems if such should arise. It’s like saying, “If you guys bring in enough delegates to nominate Biden on the first ballot, he’s all yours and we’ll all deal with the consequences in November and years coming forward.” The young activists aren’t going away. The climate crisis isn’t going away.

Apparently Sunday night before the primary, Black Lives Matter activists climbed onto the stage at Amy Klochubar’s rally in Milwaukee and wouldn’t let it go on; she had to cancel it.

The news is mostly corona virus, which our healthcare system is completely unprepared for. The real danger, I’m told, is not that a whole lot of people will die –the mortality rate is lower than flu – but that our healthcare system will get overwhelmed because of so many people getting sick at once, and no one will get care, no matter what they’re sick with. I heard one interviewee on KQED naming Trump’s de-funding of the CDC as a cause, but others, speaking on CSPAN in various hearings, dance around placing blame for being unready for a pandemic.

Children apparently don’t get sick with it, by the way.

The market is whaling around up and down as trade and travel grind to a half.

The Day After SuperTuesday — March 5, 2020

The Day After SuperTuesday

Day after SuperTuesday March 3, 2020

Which is two days after our son Jake’s birthday, by the way.

Last night Joe and I attended a DSA Bernie Watch Party at a venue near the West Oakland BART station called 7West.  From what I could tell driving through the neighborhood in the dark, it has gentrified like mad in the last 10 years; no longer artists’ lofts, warehouses, empty lots, debris left over from the 1989 earthquake that knocked down the freeway where the four-lane Mandela Expressway now runs. But this transitional quality makes it a great venue for places where you need parking and space to dance and not pay a lot of money: it was huge; tables, a long bar, a big dance floor near the band, and then a big outdoor fenced-in area with bike racks and picnic tables.

And it was jammed, even when I got there about 10:30 pm, and Joe said that thousands of people – kids, from my point of view, human beings less than 40 years old (Jake is 44) – had been there earlier. The bike racks were overwhelmed. Pretty white group, though, from what I could see.  There were two TV cameras, one apparently from a British station, doing interviews. 

For us, a peak moment was when they projected the words to Solidarity Forever on the screen above the band and started playing it and people turned toward the bandstand, stopped talking and sang.  They seemed to be familiar enough with the song to match the words to the tune.  I hugged Joe and wondered aloud if we had ever had the experience of being in a group of people singing Solidarity where one of us wasn’t actually leading it.  Not for a long time, I’m sure. I remember my first time hearing it sung by a crowd, at a CFT labor ed summer school, and being astonished and a little embarrassed by the sincerity of the old people who were singing and holding hands.  No sign of that here. The kids were happy and seemed to know what the words meant.

There was a lot art around, including a be-flagged pickup truck with a big puppet head of Bernie on the roof of the cab. Apparently there were 3 art trucks like this circulating in the Bay Area yesterday.  They did an “art-build” day where people painted and constructed signs, posters, T-shirts, puppets.

Getting back to the details

So here’s what appears to be going on.  We knew something like this would happen but of course there’s expecting it and then having it happen.

Bernie won Vermont, where people think of him and friendly, smart and reliable but not particularly radical.  He won Colorado. He won Utah. He had already won Nevada and New Hampshire. He really won Iowa, although he did not get the majority of the delegates coming out of Iowa – Buttigieg did.  Bernie had about 6,000 more actual votes than Pete Buttegieg did but the party awarded Buttigieg one more delegate than Bernie. I remember watching CSPAN that night and seeing someone from the Bernie caucus stopping by the caucus manager’s desk and asking why.  The answer was something like, “That’s the way it’s done,” or “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

At that point, a little over a week ago, Bernie was on a roll – a ”surge” as the media is calling it. 

Then a week ago last Thursday, two days before the South Carolina primary, an elderly Black South Carolina Senator, Senator Clyburn, endorsed Biden.  Up until then Biden had been viewed as a dead man walking, a limp campaign that wasn’t going anywhere. Not just among my friends, but all over the country, people would say, “Biden…..ugggh. Can you picture him on a stage with Trump?”  Then came the endorsement from Clyburn and apparently Black voters who had been waiting for some guidance turned out for Biden and Biden won South Carolina.

I saw Clyburn on CSPAN being interviewed immediately after the Senate voted to acquit Trump. He struck me as someone who had been in office for a long time and was used to wielding the power of his base, and not shy of the camera. Compared to Julian Castro’s comments on leaving the chamber, given what just had happened, Clyburn’s were not sharp.  

After the South Carolina primary, which Biden won, the landscape changed abruptly.  The limp campaign turned into a firestorm — but with the same candidate at the center. Tom Steyer dropped out. Then the moderate-center of the Democratic party — the DNCC — jumped up to “coalesce” around Biden and sure enough, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klochubar announced that they were dropping out of the race, too, and would endorse Biden. So did Beto O’Rourke in Texas, who had dropped his campaign at least a month ago.  Then Bloomberg said he was pausing his campaign.

As the results were coming in last night and Biden was racking up the states, I was driving back from orchestra rehearsal and listening to KQED and heard a pundit say that the only reason Bloomberg joined the race at all was to stop Bernie – he was the party’s Bernie insurance, because Biden looked so limp and weary that the Party was afraid he wouldn’t attract voters and beat Trump.  But after South Carolina, Biden became the candidate of choice, the Not-Bernie. Same guy as before, but suddenly a hero.

By Super Tuesday, of course many California voters had already mailed in their ballots, voting for Klobuchar, Steyer, Bloomberg or Buttigieg.

Delegates: However, Bernie was strong in some states where he lost

The Democratic Party awards delegates to the convention based on the number of votes a candidate receives. A candidate needs 1991 delegates out of 3,979 in order to clinch the nomination on the first ballot of the convention. As of this afternoon (March 5), Biden has 566, Bernie 501, and Elizabeth 61.  Bloomberg and Buttigieg between them share 79, but by now they have dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden. They are still counting votes in Texas.

In states where Bernie won, he won by a landslide.  I’d call it a landslide if the winner won by about 3:2 or better. These are delegate numbers.  

California: 93 Biden, 155 Bernie

Colorado: 9 Biden, 20 Bernie

Iowa: Biden 6, Bernie 12

New Hampshire – Biden 0, Bernie 9

Nevada – Biden 9, Bernie 24

Utah – Biden 1, Bernie 9

Vermont – Biden 5 – Bernie 11

Biden got a landslide, according to my definition, in the following states.  All of these but Oklahoma are Old South states. These are states with a significant African American population. People are talking about “the legacy of Obama” in these states, but I think that we should be looking at the role of the historic Black institutions that are alternatives to the white institutions.

Alabama – Biden 41, Bernie 7

Arkansas – Biden 17, Bernie 9

South Carolina – Biden 39, Bernie 15

North Carolina – Biden 65, Bernie 35

Oklahoma Biden 21, Bernie 13

Tennessee – Biden 29, Bernie 15

Virginia – Biden 66, Bernie 31. 

But in other states where Biden won, the difference was not as great; these were close races.

Maine – Biden 11, Bernie 9

Massachusetts – Biden 36, Bernie 29 even with Elizabeth getting 23

Minnesota – Biden 38, Bernie 26

Texas – Biden 111, Bernie 102.  Beto O’Rourke came out here for Biden. why

In Texas, Latinos aged 18-44 voted 53% for Sanders.   Among older Latinos, only 25% voted for Sanders. 

I am going to have to stop here. Too much is happening.  Elizabeth dropped out but hasn’t endorsed anyone. You can imagine the phone calls going on – “My people will talk to your people.” Maybe I will have to do this more frequently.  Right now (as of Thursday morning) Biden has 565 delegates to Bernie’s 506, due to some re-allocation in Texas. Note that the headline says “Biden increases,” although relative to Bernie’s last number, it was Bernie who increased:

What about Bernie? — February 25, 2020

What about Bernie?

Helena Worthen


Start with this, if you are worried about how long this message seems to be:

Why Bernie will win: “Look at the structure of my campaign”

I’ve been watching a lot of CSPAN ever since the Kavanaugh hearings so I’ve seen some moments that didn’t make headlines. One was Bernie exiting a meeting at a gym in a small town in Iowa; a reporter pushes in front of him and asks him why he thinks he can win.  He says, “If you want to see how we will win, look at the structure of my campaign.”

That’s exactly right. As Elizabeth Warren pointed out last Sunday night about 7 pm in an interview broadcast on KQED, Bernie’s campaign has been building for a long time. He has not just supporters, he has organizations working on his behalf like Our Revolution, National Nurses United, Labor For Bernie, Democratic Socialists of America and others that are self-organized.  Look at his endorsements on his Wikipedia page and compare them, in both number and variety, to those of anyone else.  There are also literally thousands of young leaders who were inspired by – actually trained in — his 2016 campaign and are now working in other organizations like teachers’ unions to move his progressive agenda at the grassroots level all over the country. His campaign is where much of the leadership of the recent waves of teacher strikes learned their skills. It really isn’t about him, as he says; it’s about us. 

My bottom-line issue is the climate crisis

I take the climate crisis very seriously. For many years my bottom-line question has been, what kind of government will be needed to shift our institutions and our economy over to create an inhabitable earth? These changes have to be basic, at the level of how we get around, what we eat, how we educate our children, how we design our housing and use our land.  Can it be done democratically? Some people say no, it can’t: the crisis is urgent and democracy is famously messy instead of fast, precise or efficient. To make these changes, they say, we need someone who can grab all the power available and simply make it happen, top-down. But if we turn to another billionaire president to run the country like a business executive, whether it is Trump or a Bloomberg, we are the frogs in Aesop’s fable asking Zeus for a king.  To me, this is despair talking; despair and nihilism. 

Others say, “Yes, we can make this shift democratically.” Even if it’s just a hope, as in: “I hope so,” it’s a hope worth betting our lives on, at the level of “I really hope my grandchildren can breathe the air, drink the water, and live in a world where there is still such a thing as a wild animal, not just ones being raised for food.”

I hope we can make this shift democratically, but I certainly don’t expect it to happen without my help.  My 8-year old grandson, overhearing my conversation about this with his dad, cried out, “Children save the world!”  Not without help they won’t.

Right now we have the opportunity democratically elect someone whose key programs, the Green New Deal and Medicare-4-All, would start to turn the vast ship of the US economy around. Yes, even under a democratically elected government with avenues of real bottom-up accountability there will be some pain.  Habits and expectations will have to change. But it’s foolish to think that election of another billionaire, or a “moderate” Democrat who would be likely to cave, would not equally result in pushback.  Continuing waves of disaster capitalism will only intensify the anger and strengthen the resistance we are seeing today. If we think that the rise of an activist left in the country and the references to a “revolution” signal something extreme, that’s nothing compared to what would happen if we did not have an open path to democratic accountability in place.  

Bernie and Bloomberg

There are two important maps to compare when we think about Bernie and Bloomberg. Both are from the brilliant graphics folks at the New York Times. The one about Bloomberg is about where he spends his money. 

The one about Bernie is about where he gets his money.

If you know something about Bernie’s agenda, you’ll notice that Bloomberg’s philanthropic agenda overlaps a lot with Bernie’s: Education, public health and safety, anti-tobacco, climate change.  You could see more similarities than differences. 

But that’s not the point. The point is, do I want to be governed by someone who moves his agenda by giving vast sums to foundations and non-profits or someone who does it by organizing and leading a movement? Do I want someone who can do anything he wants because he can buy it, and is accountable to no-one (which is what we’ve got now, anyway)? No –I want to have my government in the hands of someone who has got where he is by standing for values that a lot of people believe in, being public and brave and consistent about those values, and taking the heat and being accountable to the people who have put him where he is.

Why, come to think of it, doesn’t Bloomberg run as a Republican?  This was our daughter’s suggestion. Until 2000 he was a Democrat, them he switched to Republican to run for Mayor of New York, spoke at the 2004 Republican convention and then switched to Independent in 2007.

His philanthropic agenda looks like some of the old-style liberal Republican ideas.  Hospitals and museums! He would win if he ran in the Republican primaries against Trump – Republicans would love him.  The thing is, he’s really running against Bernie, not Trump.

How Bloomberg got on the stage in Nevada anyway

If you wonder how Bloomberg got onto the stage for the upcoming debate in Nevada, where he isn’t even on the ballot, notice the big “or” in the following sentence from the NPR description:

To qualify, a candidate needed to have won at least one delegate in the first two contests, have four national polls showing the candidate with 10% or more or two state polls from either South Carolina or Nevada showing the candidate with 12% or more support. Bloomberg previously cracked 10% in polls from Quinnipiac University, Monmouth University and Fox News.

There are three different ways to qualify, in other words. The Democratic National Committee makes these rules for their own candidates. They changed them to let Bloomberg get on the stage in Nevada. I’m sure he consulted extensively with them before announcing his candidacy. They probably said, “Wait and see how Biden does.”  When Biden started to droop, and the non-white candidates had dropped out, they gave Bloomberg the green light.

A general note about polls

Polling results make news, but there are dozens and dozens of polls and they survey different people differently at different dates.  If you look at any it’s worth looking at a lot of them.  Here’s the Wikipedia entry on “nationwide opinion polling” — see what is under “aggregate polls.”

RV means “registered voter”; LV means “likely voter”, “AA” means “all adults” and then there are some that are blank or unclear.  Little colleges do polls – Emerson in Boston is one, Monmouth on the west side of Illinois is another. It’s good publicity. The results depend on who has a landline, who answers the phone or who clicks on one of these innumerable messages you get via email that ends up with asking for a donation. Most are only in English. Nevertheless, they play an important role in our electoral process.

The Prisoners’ Dilemma

Some people I talk to say: “I really like Bernie but other people will get caught up in the debates and either won’t vote for him or won’t vote at all, and Trump will win and that will be the worst possible outcome.  I know what the right thing to do is, But other people won’t do it so I can’t do it either.”  This is the old prisoner’s dilemma where two people are being interrogated in separate cells. One could betray the other, or reveal the secret, and get released. If they both keep their mouths shut (in the face of torture, usually), the secret will stay secret. Both prisoners have to ask themselves if they can trust the other to do the right thing, or not.

The penetration of “messaging” into our political culture lowers our resistance to creating one message for ourselves and a different one for people who don’t get it, who are less well-informed, who are swayed by scares of one sort or another, who don’t like the word “socialism,” whose main motivator is fear of another Trump term rather than hope for sustainable change, etc. etc.

Bernie does not have one speech for the smart people and one for the “deplorables.”  He gives the same speech, whether he’s in a small town in New Hampshire or at a 6,000 person rally like the one in Richmond, CA last week, or on the debate stage. Thirty years ago he had a public access TV show in Burlington, Vermont.  They recently released all their archives. You can see it on the Daily Show, the same Bernie – standing there in the snow, only with more hair – giving the same speech.  It’s also the same speech I heard in Oakland in 2016.  This is the same link that I put at the top of this message.  Watch the whole thing; it’s likely that clips from his anti-racism high school class will show up, doctored, on right-wing TV:

Also, we are not prisoners.  We can talk to the guy in the other cell and should do so right away. 

Who would be crazy enough to run against Trump, anyway?

To seriously take on Trump, who pardons criminals and practices retaliation without blinking – see Colonel Vindman  — and his twin brother!  Did Trump worry about not being able to tell the two of them apart? — you have to be basically either crazy or on-fire fearless.  Crazy with anger is actually a sane response to looking closely at the climate crisis, and fearless, which is a sane response to perhaps having to deal with Trump’s supporters.  In order to really take this fight all the way over the finish line, we need someone who isn’t in the fight just because it’s an option; we need someone who is on fire.

In fact, no President has ever been elected merely because they were less worse than something bad. People come out and vote if there’s something they want and someone clearly in their line of view, showing them what it is and how to get it.

Finally (sigh), what does “too far to the left” actually mean?

The San Francisco Chronicle has been doing a “What would happen in California if X won?”  They started with Bernie, and said that under a Bernie presidency, given how progressive a lot of California legislation has been, there wouldn’t be that much change.  It’s a fairly balanced article.

Especially if you live in Berkeley, the first city in the US to become a sanctuary city (1971), with our fancy bike lanes, farmer’s markets and beautiful residential neighborhoods, assuming you can afford to live in them, we are an example of what “too far to the left” refers to.

Bernie’s agenda is basically a Roosevelt (Franklin D.) agenda for the 2000’s, which was too far to the left for many (not my parents, who lived through the Depression).  When Bernie talks about socialism he often points out that what he’s talking about is Democratic Socialism, as it is practiced in countries like Finland and Denmark, countries which, as we know, are ranked #1and #2 on the international index of how happy people are with their government and their lives:

He is not talking about governments that have had “socialist” in their name but were in fact authoritarian forms of state capitalism, like Burma/Myanmar or Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

So “too far to the left” apparently means something that looks a bit like Berkeley, a bit like Denmark, and a bit like what would have happened if FDR’s New Deal had not run into virulent anti-communism after World War II.

Too far to the left for Mississippi, or at least for the oligarchs of the Old South

But that’s just what we’d see here in California. What about other places in the US?  The changes in many other states would be enormous. Just for starters, what about the 14 states that did not accept the chance to expand Medicaid?

Think of what Bernie’s Medicare-4-All would mean to people in these states, mostly red poverty rates up to nearly 20% in Mississippi and very few union-represented jobs where healthcare would be a negotiated benefit.  These people are not worried about Medicare-4-All “taking away” their much-loved health insurance plans. They don’t have any health insurance to take away. And there are millions of people in this situation. They also have high rates of voter suppression going all the way back to the 3/5th “compromise” in the Constitution and the creation of the Electoral College.

Any women’s issues here?

There are women who are afraid to get out of a bad marriage because their health insurance and their kids’ comes from their husband’s jobs, and people who continue to work a job they hate because it offers employer-based health insurance – all of those people would be freed up by Medicare-4-All. Conversely, of course, the parties that benefit from having that control (the husbands and employers) would be against it.  I use the wife-husband shorthand intentionally, because of the way the traditional social building block of the traditional family still frames our lives.  This applies everywhere in our society, whether you are rich or poor.  Rich women also experience abuse.

Of course, don’t forget the women who get their healthcare through Catholic healthcare systems, where providers are limited in their ability to prescribe contraception:

Then there are people who have bought insurance plans with lifetime caps or thousand dollar deductibles – all those people would benefit from Medicare-4-all.   The people in the Culinary Union in Nevada who voted for Bernie (and who were interviewed on NPR and Democracy Now) said that, despite the signals coming from the top union leadership, they voted not just for their own self-interest but for the people who walked the picket line with them, their children, their friends, people who couldn’t get the minimum number of work hours that would keep them on their union health plans, etc.

It should be simply obvious: You can’t fund a universal healthcare system unless everyone pays into it.  That’s why you can’t have people opting out and “choosing” a private plan instead. But would private plans be made illegal? No – Bernie doesn’t say that. He’s not talking about making boutique healthcare illegal. There could still be the kinds of private plans that exist now, complete with helicopter landing pads and Steinway pianos in the hospice lounges.  But you’d have to buy those in addition to paying into Medicare like everyone else.

Finally, Bernie in Vermont

I have spent a lot of time in Vermont, where my parents retired and where Joe Berry and I have a house in a small village.  Bernie has been a household name in Vermont for the last 40 years. Republicans in our village vote for Bernie at the same time as they elect a Republican state legislator. Of course, Medicare-4-All passed in Vermont in 2014 (Act 47) and should have been implemented, so people are familiar with the concept. It was a Democratic Governor who, after he ran on supporting Act 47, changed his mind and did not implement it.  My point is that for people who have lived with him in their lives for many years, Bernie and Medicare-4-All is not controversial. 

Contact information for me (if you want to dispute or otherwise comment on this message, or if you want me to stop using your personal email address for any reason) is at the top of this message.


Helena Worthen

National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981

Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay Chapter

LA teachers out, Gov’t shut — January 21, 2019

LA teachers out, Gov’t shut

Amazing!! One guy at the top is having a conniption and shuts the government! Bang, it’s closed. We have no government!!! Name any other serious country around the world that has no “government”. Certain border areas of Pakistan, maybe? Well, that’s what things have come down to in the US. Some emergency workers like IRS employees have been called back to work without pay. But big chunks of the Park Service, food inspection, Department of Justice, consular services, federal prisons, the TSA people … and on and on.

Cities and towns are doing food banks for federal workers.

But also not working are the teachers! Teachers (young, committed, serious, hopeful and organized!) are on strike in Los Angeles (for 5 days now) by the thousands, in their red T-shirts, with massive support from families and students and apparently the Mayor and a lot of other unions — and the NFL player’s union. Nothing like a good strike to cheer you up — especially if the guy on the other end of the bookends of power is a total schnippe. Teachers have been leading the way now for nearly a decade, if you go back to the organizing among the Chicago teachers.

And while all this is going on, we are in Viet Nam.

I do not have time to explain everything that is going on but here are some pictures:

Good news, overall — November 28, 2018

Good news, overall

I am writing this on November 15, nine days after the mid-term election. Ballots are still being counted. There are still 7 contests for seats in the House of Representatives that are “too close to be called,” two in California, two in New York, one in Texas, one in Mississippi, and one in Utah. Both are leaning Democrat. In Mississippi and Florida they are still counting ballots for Senate contests.  The ballots for Governor in Georgia and Florida are still being counted.

How state-level elections are run is a matter of state law ( The person who is accountable for how an election is run can be elected or appointed, and if they are appointed, it may be by the Governor, by the legislature, or by some commission whose members are themselves appointed. This person has a lot of leeway in how they run the election. Deadlines, for example — they vary from state to state. Ballots that aren’t  counted by whatever deadline the state decides may not get counted at all. Lawyers can go to court and get judges to move the deadlines, however. Some states have requirements that a contest be close within a certain percent in order to trigger a run-off. There are laws about when to use machine counting and when you have to use hand-counting.  One state has poll workers eyeballing the signatures on the outside of ballot mailing envelopes and determining if they match a sample signature in some other record. To say nothing of old ballot-counting machines and new ballot-counting machines. Right now, Florida has one manual recount and six machine recounts going. It is Florida again where the Governor has tried to have all the election equipment and processes impounded by the police. Florida, of course, is the state where Bush vs Gore, the 2000- election, was decided.

Here is a parody of what the right has done with our electoral system. It’s five of the weirdest old white guys you ever saw, wearing wigs, and singing Beach Boys songs:


Nonetheless, in many places, state and local level, Democrats have already won or appear to be leading in the un-called races, as mail-in and provisional ballots get counted.  Races that appeared to be lost on Nov 7 now are flipping. Josh Harder out in Stockton, for example, whom we supported, has won. Four California districts flipped to blue and one more seems to be coming along.  In Florida, Andrew Gillum conceded first, and then as the count continued, withdrew his concession. In Georgia, Stacy Abram’s numbers are climbing.

Overall, in the House of Representatives the Democrats gained 35 seats and hold 230. The Republicans lost 35 to hold 198.

In the Senate, the Democrats lost 1 to hold 47 and the Republicans gained 1 to hold 52, but two races are still uncalled, so it may turn out to be 49-52.

The Democrats won seven Governorships to have 23 and the Republicans lost 6 to have 25. Again, two races (Florida and Georgia) are undecided. As more and more major policies (like Medicare expansion, unemployment compensation, public sector labor laws, school funding) are enacted at the state level as compared to the federal level, people figure out that they have to think about holding state leadership to account and not vote a nationalist “patriotic” ticket on the state and local level.

This is some pretty good news, and the best part of it is that many of the wins for the Democrats are people who are not the old-style corporate liberal Democrats. Many of the candidates who won were endorsed by OR, Our Revolution – the organization that spun off of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign.

This is in spite of our Electoral College process, the 2-senators-per-state rule for the Senate, and then a 60-plus year (post Brown vs Board of Education) strategy on the part of the right wing to bring back the Confederacy.  (See Nancy McLean’s Democracy in Chains.) In spite of failing to re-authorize the Voting Rights Act, permitting massive gerrymandering, and voter suppression down to closing polling places or moving them at the last minute, and on and on, so that the old “3/5ths” rule pretty much is back in place, with only 3/5s of those who could vote being able to vote.

It looks as if we have in fact been able to make a lot of our battered machinery of democracy work anyway. Amazingly. Yes, it has taken a lot of money (individual donations by people who don’t have much extra to begin with) and a whole lot of time. It’s not something you can keep doing forever. But it does look like it happened.

I wrote about his before the election and said, in response to the question, “What would a revolution look like?” — that maybe, if we could make our democracy work, it would look like a shift of the basis of power from the few with bottomless pocketbooks to the many like us. That hasn’t really happened but this is a warning.


Ultimately, Andrew Gillum in Florida, Stacy Abrams in Georgia and Mike Espy in Mississippi (all Black candidates) lost, but lost by a handful of votes. Now (two weeks later) Barbara Lee is contesting Nancy Pelosi’s candidacy for Speaker of the House. 

And in between, the hills and mountains northeast of us, up above the Central Valley, went up in flames. A town called Paradise was completely burnt to the ground. Years of alternating drought and heavy rains created thousands of square miles of flourishing forest that would dry out and wither and become kindling. People moved up into these hill towns because land is cheap and living is relatively simple, but if you live way out along a narrow two-lane road and a massive wind-borne wildfire comes pouring down the mountain, and you get stuck behind your neighbors in a traffic jam on that two-lane road, you die. So far there are 80 or more identified deaths and several hundred people simply missing.

The smoke from the wildfires rolled down towards the Bay Area which acted like a basin and collected it. For two weeks the sky was black. According to the air quality index, we had the worst air quality in the world, worse than Beijing on a bad day. Schools were closed and people stayed indoors. If you went outdoors, you work a N95 mask (if you could get one — stores ran out).

At last it rained. The water in the creek running through John Hinkel Park and in the street gutters was thick and black and sudsy.  We’ve washed the floors, curtains and other surfaces. But we’ll keep our masks and our new air purifier. There are thousands more square miles of forest to burn, just in Northern California, and it will all pool down into the Bay.

New Beach is gone; new New Beach will show up when the river goes down — November 6, 2018

New Beach is gone; new New Beach will show up when the river goes down


It has rained on and off and then on again, hard, and the ground is saturated so the water runs right into the river. This is what the Old Swimming Hole looks like. We told Lorenzo about this and he asked if the New Beach was gone. We said we would go look, as soon as it stopped raining so hard.

The path to New Beach used to go through a low, open wooded area. That is now a pond. Our old path would go along the right side of what is now under water. You can see the river itself in the distance. The whitecaps are the water pouring over the rocks.


In order to get to where we could look at New Beach, we had to cross some streams.


We went past a pile of crushed metal left over from the flood. It looked like part of an RV. The flood, which was named Irene, picked up whole RVs, trailers and at least four houses in the town and pushed them downstream, wrecking them and twisting them up into little pieces. This was in 2011, seven years ago. Everyone who was in the town then remembers.


If you look closely here you can see a bicycle. Somebody lost their bicycle.


Finally we got to where we could look and see where New Beach used to be.  See that white pole hanging out over the water? That used to be up on top of a sand pile and people would hang towels on it or sit near it. You can see the pale yellow of the sand under the shallower parts of the water. That’s how high the water is now.

This is not a real flood, like Irene. This is just a lot of rain. This happens a lot.


So New Beach, which was created along the West River below the State Park, is gone. However, it was a flood that created the first New Beach so when there is the next flood, we will probably get another on the same way.  Maybe the sand will be there. Or maybe not. Maybe it will be down the river a ways.

On the way back, we passed this lovely group of trees. There should be a special word for a group of young trees all standing together.


Then we came out at the bottom of the field below the Tewksbury house.


Still there.




Tuesday Nov 6: no matter what happens, we will be fighting on different ground — November 5, 2018

Tuesday Nov 6: no matter what happens, we will be fighting on different ground

The election is day after tomorrow. I remember how I felt after the 2016 election. In 2018, I am much better prepared. I think a lot of people are better prepared. I have never seen mobilization like what I have seen in the last year. Never — not even in the 1970s against the Vietnam War. But no matter what happens on Tuesday,  it’s not going to let up. If anything, the conflict will only get sharper.

I think people on both sides know this.  They’re not thinking of Tuesday as the end of the story.  Nobody’s going to take time off. If the bad guys win, we’re still stuck in a life and death struggle because global warming has given us a deadline: get it together, or get out. If the bad guys win we just keep moving towards the world we have seen in movies, with deserts, continents of toxic waste, and then islands or even mini-moons of luxury.  If that’s what happens, people like us just keep fighting. On the other hand, if the good guys win, the conflict will move to Congress. This doesn’t mean that people at the base  on either side can cool it. The good guys had better not cool it; if we have actually succeeded in electing people we want to represent us, we need to keep them on course and make them make the wheels turn. The bad guys will have a heightened romantic identity as underdogs and flag-wavers; they’ll keep themselves busy. William Berkeley, the colonial governor of Virginia at the time of Bacon’s Rebellion, said, “Woe be it to a governor, three quarters of whose citizens are indebted, discontented, and armed.”

The key races are all so close that wins, either way, are going to be by a handful of votes. It’s going to be 49.9% against 49.8%. That leaves a lot of unhappy, angry people out there. No one who loses by a thousand votes, or four hundred votes, or ten votes, is going to just walk away and say, “Never mind.”  There will be re-counts, lawsuits, ugly name-calling. More pipe bombs, probably.

There will be stunning examples of good leadership, too. Although I believed Bernie could have won – and would have won, if the Democratic National Committee had not screwed with him – I always also trusted that he would show us what losing with dignity looks like. I will never forget the speech he gave at the Convention when he handed Vermont’s electoral votes to Hilary. That was a mind-blowingly gracious and grown-up act. He rose to the occasion.

But maybe 2016 was too soon for a Social Democrat to win the presidency. Maybe the cleft down the middle of our country had to break wide open, maybe each side had to see more clearly exactly what the other side looks like. Maybe we had to actually see Jeff Sessions, the Proud Boys, Charlottesville, Kavanaugh……

Tuesday night we’ll be in Brattleboro at the bi-weekly meeting of the Vermont Workers Center Organizing Committee, a good group of people to be with on a night like that. There’s going to be those maps again, as House representatives who have 2-year terms and the 33 Senators who are up for election show up as columns of red or blue.Then the Governor’s races check in. The VWC meetings take place at a non-profit center called TheRoot, a comfortable building that is part artists’ studios and part community enter. It has parking, heat, a bathroom, a lot of comfortable chairs and books and posters.  It also has internet. I’ll go on line and try to see what’s happening in California, Pacific Standard Time.

I’m prepared to cry. I didn’t cry after 2016; I was just scared. This year, if we lose big, I’ll cry for pity for the human race. But intellectually – in my harder-headed side — I expect that I’m going to hear a big cracking noise, like a beam splitting or – come to think of it — like the 1989 earthquake which I remember vividly: a deep grinding noise way below eardrum-audible, but body-audible, as the East Bay Hills groaned and tried to turn over. When the noise is over, I think I’ll see a country split apart as it hasn’t been since the Civil War.