Thursday, October 21, 2021

What rises in America?

Moonrise over Cambria East Village

          For more than 20 years she had served her customers, cooked their breakfasts and lunches, knew their likes, kept coffee cups full and heard about their lives. Tonight, somewhat retired, she sat at the long table, having catered a meal, relaxed, sipped a glass a wine and told a story that revealed a great truth about what's happening to workers, and what will change our economy

       She's resilient and street smart. She ran a good restaurant, but the building owner had different plans. With little notice a community favorite was closed. 
        She was tired, had worked hard and said it was time to give her mother the attention she needed, so she moved her from Mexico. Last week they were having lunch at a little restaurant over the mountain. Seeing tables that needed to be cleared, her old instincts kicked in and she went to work.                                    Shortly she and the manager were conversing, they had a lot in common. Her host  complained about not being able to hire help. It's the common business malady of the day, coast to coast.

        As she nursed the cabernet, she told us the restauranteur didn't understand why she couldn't get help offering pay of $12-13 an hour. 
        "She won't be able to hire anyone for that. Servers today will make $25-30 an hour. They have choices now."

SHIFT by Warren Hamrick
San Simeon CA

choices now
        Things are out alignment, out of whack; it's a new day and that is especially so for the working class.
        Bars, coffee shops, restaurants, medical offices, retail businesses, trucking companies, warehouses and more are hammered by a dwindling work force. The Pandemic sickened economy is changing work in America. 
        In 50 years of reporting I've not seen the rise of such an attitude. 

        Workers are taking a break in what has become a kind of rolling grassroots labor action. They are holding out for better pay, a once in a lifetime chance to even the balance. This is a unique time for workers to close the wealth gap.

        We've all been surprised by product shortages, longer delivery times, restricted hours, brith pains of a profound change in the economic equation. 
        Burned out, stuck in careers, piqued over a lack of management concern, fighting for child care, wanting more pay, and more respect the work force understands they are needed. They know they have a bargaining chip, leverage. 
        During the pandemic employees changed attitudes about  work, where they work, how they work, and how much they are paid. Some have a bit of a savings cushion since they spent less over the last year and half so now they wait until they get a better offer. The bidding is on. It is a workers market.
        It remains to be seen if corporations, businesses, managers, executives, boards of directors or even congress act on increasing a minimum wage, paying more equitably, and addressing working conditions. A shift seems to be underway.

trumpers and progressives align

        Nothing like a neighborhood issue to bring political opposites together.
        It can happen anywhere. In this case Cambrians huddle with a parks official to let him know their opposition to a plan  from another neighborhood.

             Non-neighbors want to turn the local park, a well used and popular picnic ground busy with weddings, reunions, concerts, parties, dog and human exercise, and just chilling, into a pool where she and her friends can swim laps.  


            It's also home to the traditional Fourth of July festivities,

        and it's already got a pool. Doesn't matter to the fomenters who want a new pool, their lap pool, in someone else's back yard. So, opposites on other matters make alliance on this one. 

        If it happens here, there is still hope. 

        As our quiet village and neighboring San Simeon is beset with tourists, acting as erratic hordes and traffic hazards as they take in our annual scare crow festival, I'd like to offer my nomination for the best.
        No official entry here. No, this creature is the work of an artist who found a windswept beach, far from mapped displays. You have to walk a ways, out of the way to find it.

        Stay safe. Be patient.
        See you down the trail.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Safeguarding Freedom of Expression

         When awarding Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee said their journalism, safe guarding the freedom of expression, is a precondition to democracy and lasting peace.
      From the Nobel Committee announcement:
      Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.

Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time. This year’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize is therefore firmly anchored in the provisions of Alfred Nobel’s will.

            Ressa and Muratov have been abused and attacked by authorities. Colleagues have been killed. They are not alone.
       Journalists across the planet have suffered for their pursuit of facts. It is good these two, who faced down authoritarian dictators and government henchmen, are cited. Ressa and Muratov have been especially courageous. Thousands of others can a share a sense of pride as they too work against lies, authoritarianism, and abuse of human liberty and dignity. 

        A former news director I worked with took a mid career sabbatical to begin a process of visiting the old Soviet Union states to teach news gathering, editing, reporting and broadcasting. He helped to plant the seeds that now challenge Putin and the oligarchs. 
        I worked with and counseled visiting foreign journalists on investigative reporting and documentary work. I made it a point to work with those from authoritarian nations. 
        Bob Campbell and I were just a couple of the legion of American journalists who evangelized the robustness of strong reporting. It is odd and pathetic that practices of dictators and strongmen are now used by American politicians. These include attacks on the Constitution and its foundational principles. 
        The canons and codes of conduct of journalism's guiding institutions have been perverted by "news" services that in truth are propaganda mills and disinformation.

          I've been recalling an assignment to Brazil, after the first elected civilian government in 21 years. We were there after the military government relinquished power. Boarded up newspapers and radio stations were being re-opened and reborn. In the cafes and bars there was talk of democracy and the free press. America was a role model. That was before news by flavor, and all that followed the Rupert Murdoch virus.

telling stories 

        Working in the "news biz" is a ticket to a lifetime of stories, adventures and memorable people.

           It was well after 4:00 and Bob Hoover and I had the double package lead story on the news at 5:00. We had just returned to our cubicle in the police wing following an elevator ride from the Chief's office.
            Trying to block out the noise from the police scanner so I could hear the sound bites and then feed them back to the studio, I heard an unusual clacking competing with Bob's old school typing.
            I looked at him and saw that he'd pushed his dentures forward, out of his mouth and he was chipping them open and closed as he thought of his copy while typing. He was keeping a kind of rhythm. Bob had been a drummer. He was not amused at my chuckle and he kept pounding away. 

            I was punching in and out my Sony cassette recorder listening for the in and out edit points of the news actualities we had just gathered. Bob was at my elbow at our steel case desk, both of us jammed to the walls of our little cube. The emergency and police frequency speaker box was squawking above us as Bob jabbed his index fingers onto the keyboard of his 1920's era portable black Corona typewriter. Bob had been a reporter since the 20's and that old Corona, with it's uneven key strokes, had covered a lot of news. Now some 50 years later he and I were on deadline to report what was the biggest drug bust in Indianapolis history. Lots of money, drugs and weapons had been put on display as the IPD touted the victory. Bob and I were racing to pull it all together for the 5:00 news.

             Bob was a decade past normal retirement, but he could't give it up, the rush, the adrenaline rush that courses through the body as you write and edit on deadline. 
            He was always dressed to the nines and rarely took off his suit coat or sport jacket. After we had reported live and were off the air, Bob put his jacket on the back of his chair, loosened his tie, unlocked the top desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, which he poured in our coffee mugs. Racing the clock, telling the story, getting it right produces a particular kind of thirst. 
              So does investigative reporting, covering war, murder, child abuse, public fraud, social justice actions, government, disaster, disease, politics, banking, immigration, addiction, zoning boards and the countless other places where you'll find journalists, laboring to keep you informed. 

                            So before the moon is full, raise a toast to all of the real reporters, those whose only bias is for information, facts and who go to war and all of those other places armed only with curiosity, pens, pencils, cameras, notebooks and recorders. 

                        See you down the trail.                       

Friday, October 1, 2021

ON THE BRINK..............IF

        Approaching two years of pandemic living, humankind is the poorer for it. 

    "When your negativity bucket is full, it's full!" said the Rat as he threw neighbor Bob off the cliff in the cartoon strip Pearls Before Swine.

     We are devolving.

    Extraordinary souls have devoted themselves to others, to healing and to the common good, but almost everybody else is  worried or angry or both. 

     We've begun to understand we are a planet of grief, grievances and that pieces do not fit as they did. Life as we knew it is also a victim. 

        Those things, organizations, structure, mores, routines and all that held us together as a last tendril of civility are gone or are changed, drastically. We find ourselves on the brink emotionally, politically, and as a planet.

        Petulance has become our happy face.

       Our manner of living pays it no honor, nor even nods acknowledgement, but this growling spectacle of how we live with each other, is being measured. Standards change of course and so, in that way, we are scored by comparison. 
        History has the last word. Presently we are at war over values of culture. The battle-line is the nexus of I and we
        How do we live into and what do we expect from society? How do we get along?

        Media is the clarion. 

        Radio, television and social media have morphed story telling and journalism. It's changed reporting and our expectations. 

         Curated and aggregated information, like all things, was subject to human foibles. That is how racism, male supremacy,  cultural bias and the like got baked into normative assumptions. Though overdue and limited, old media was and is, self-correcting.               

        Now, however, we watch algorithms, products of human reasoning, maturing through data and machine learning, amass power and influence, though unrestrained by idealism, values, faith, principles and standards of decency and civility. It shows.

        No one elected the tech titans, yet their profit making platforms are addictive and they bend culture. Old media plays along. The manic pandemic lifestyle wedded us more intensely to our screens. Everything has changed as we live in a feedback loop of discordance. So much of life is like fingernails on a blackboard.

        Snark, "gotcha," and the takedown is the code of behavior and modus operandi. There is not enough probing for understanding and there is way too much lunging for the throat.

      Correspondents feed their social media streams, and maintain a "following" in addition to the work of being experts on their beat. Time was when only information and fact gathering was the job. Developing sources and contacts takes time, now devoted to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds.     

        This era of media practices "false equivalency." It is lazy, stupid and deplorable. 
      Here's how it works. A correspondent, news anchor or writer will give value to lies and deceptions, that are obvious political stunts or posturing, by how they pose a question. It is prompted by the seeking of an artificial "balance" or pretense of objectivity. 
     It's kept the Trump big lie and all of it's perverted manifestations alive. Even talking about it breaths more life into it. Raising it gives it an undeserved sort of credibility. Think  Cyber Ninja vote "recount" in Arizona, as one example.
     Republicans have no agenda. They will condemn neither the insurrection nor the Trump lies. When one of them trots out a fallacy, or an absurd claim, it is used as a kind of block and check to what Democrats or the administration say, do or propose. I am waiting for the flat earth society to get street credibility when a major news organization cites them in a story. 
    Lies are lies, crazy is crazy and bull shit is bull shit. A responsible media would call it out and not be trapped into shilling the ludicrous. 

       "News by flavor" has sharpened the edges between us. In fact it is only about business, building ratings and selling ads, but the poor fools who consume hours of the stuff end up duped and manipulated.
        Chronic news "content slant and skew," propagandizing and active disinformation is destroying us by division and diminishing the value of information. Too few seek multiple sources and verifiable credibility.
        There is no reason Mitch McConnell should be believed. He leads a party that is out to destroy a democratic republic and its time honored rules. McConnell is seen and quoted but rarely if ever challenged about dirty tricks and deception. 

        Presently he is delaying the calendar, trying to avoid a voting rights bill that could put a stop to the fraudulent voter suppression blitzkrieg of Trump's fascists. He's trying to stop passage of legislation, notably the infrastructure funding, that 70% of Americans support. He's playing brinksmanship even on government funding which is to pay for the $8 Trillion he and Trump added to the debt. He is incapable of bipartisanship, even to the benefit of his own voters.
       McConnell is playing a death match for the sake of power. What he says is given credibility by media, but he is never challenged on motive. It is spineless reporting.
        The evacuation of Afghanistan moved more humans than any time in history. More allies and friends were moved from harm than in any war. The media and republican inspired take was "a botched job."  History will cite the full story of stopping this nation's longest war, fraudulent and mismanaged from the start.    

     There is seething pressure building among many. They want to see Democrats unite, and not squander opportunity at a time of peril. Since Reagan, Republicans have tried to undo the Democrat social pact with America. 
     Republicans have given tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, cut social spending and shrunk government service at every opportunity. The nation is now crumbling, our standing in the world is slipping in categories like health, income and education. 
    The more serious challenge is more sinister than policy differences.
      Republicans are so without belief, they gave their party to Trump and he is the front man for a dumbed down populism, white supremacy, looney nationalism and dark money. Republicans aid and abet foreign enemies and enable a wealthy cabal to use Trumpism to turn our democracy into an autocracy. 
        Even in the face of such a dire and toxic scene, the Democrats again are at war with themselves unable to see the bigger picture. 
        Politics and government is damaged and a global crisis only makes it worse.

       There has been exceptional reporting and stunning revelations but that valuable information has to compete for bandwidth. Media suffers as we all do, from fatigue and pandemic depression. Fear and anger are dominant emotions.

         Deep analysis, visionary strategies, pragmatic determination still exist but they have trouble cutting through the noise and fog of a pandemic infected planet following four years of turmoil of the most incompetent and simply the most evil and divisive presidency in US history. We are exhausted. Sick and tired. It's a helluva position to be in when we face existential challenge, to our nation and to the planet. 

        If our systems are broken, if common sense no longer exists, if people don't believe science, if one of our great parties has become a cult, there is only one place to go as we stand on the brink. As beat up as we may be, we must go within, summon strength, honor our aspirations, stand on the shoulders of all who have faced adversity, embrace whatever is sacred in our life and be a light bearer whenever, wherever, and however we can.

          Stay strong! This too will pass.
          See you down the trail. 

            by Rudyard Kipling

  If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!