15 January 2018

What a Surprise

The story of Alaska, where Democrats have gone from insignificance to a part of the ruling coalition in the legislature, has one important lesson, that political professional must necessarily be ignored in order to achieve success:
On May 23, 2012, after finishing final exams at the end of his junior year at Yale, a 23-year-old named Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins got two phone calls from people back home in Alaska. The first came from an erstwhile losing candidate for state Legislature; the second, from a longtime high school debate coach who remembered Kreiss-Tomkins as a standout from a rival school’s team. Neither one knew the other was calling, but both had the same idea: Kreiss-Tomkins should drop out of college.

Specifically, he should drop out of college, move home to Sitka and become a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives. They told him he had 10 days to decide.

………

Over the next five months, Kreiss-Tomkins campaigned doggedly. He went door to door, by foot, ferry and bush plane. He visited Alaska Native villages, arriving with only a backpack containing a change of clothes, a tube of Ritz crackers, some peanut butter and a stash of business cards.

Thomas, his opponent, hung back, slow to awake to the seriousness of the challenge. Meanwhile, Kreiss-Tomkins, sounding a populist note, hammered him on a vote Thomas had taken to cut taxes for the oil industry. “I framed my candidacy primarily as a referendum on that vote,” Kreiss-Tomkins says, “because I thought his vote on such an important issue directly conflicted with the public interest.”

………

On December 3, 2012, Kreiss-Tomkins was declared the victor by 32 votes. And although he had no way to know it at the time, it was the beginning of something very unexpected.

In the five years since Kreiss-Tomkins’s upset victory, a most unusual thing has happened: Alaska—which elected Sarah Palin governor and has not supported a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson—has turned from red to a bluish hue of purple. Throughout the state, unknown progressives, like the kind Kreiss-Tomkins once was, have been winning. Before the elections of 2012, conservatives controlled all the major seats of power in Alaska: the governorship, both houses of the Legislature, and the mayoralty and city assembly of Anchorage, where 40 percent of the state’s 740,000 residents live; now, progressives and moderates control all of those offices but the state Senate, which has been gerrymandered beyond their control. More than half of the 40-member Alaska House of Representatives has been newly elected since 2012, most of them Democrats or independents; together with three moderate Republicans, they have remade the Democratic-independent caucus into a 22-18 majority.
They have raised the minimum wage, mooted credible discussions about creating an income tax, (Won't happen until the oil money dries up) expanded voter registration, and legalized marijuana.

Why is this? Because they have sidelined the Democratic Party establishment, which is, in accordance with the Iron Rule of Institutions, is really all about keeping their "Phony Baloney Jobs", not winning elections:
To be sure, this tectonic political shift would have been impossible without traditional Democratic players, like unions. But what’s been less noticed, even in Alaska, is the role played by millennials who, rather than spending years working their way up on the team, instead reinvented the playbook. Three men in particular—Kreiss-Tomkins, Forrest Dunbar and John-Henry Heckendorn—have pointed the way to reviving progressivism in the state by recruiting new, outsider candidates, teaching them how to win, and connecting them with fellow travelers. In bypassing traditional channels—which in Alaska, as everywhere else, tend to elevate predictable, uninspiring pols who have paid their dues—they’ve propelled a wave of untested candidates with little experience and even less party identity, but who believe in the economic populist agenda shared by a coalition of labor, environmentalists and the state’s large, politically engaged Alaska Native population.

Their emerging coalition has been a boon for the Democratic Party, of course, but what’s remarkable is how little of this transformation has depended on the party. To the extent that the Democratic Party has helped in its own revival—and in transforming Alaska from deep red to a blue-ish purple—it was in part by getting out of the way. As progressives across the country try to pry Republicans out of power, they have important lessons to learn from a state where they are wrongly thought to have no power at all.
 (all emphasis mine)

What works in Alaska may not work elsewhere, the nation's largest state has a small enough population that literally everyone in politics knows everyone else in politics, which means that the political establishment has meaningful face to face contact with any insurgents, but the lesson here, that the party establishment, particularly the unelected "Professional" part, is frequently an obstacle, not an aid to the electoral process.

Weird Family History

I had an interesting talk with my Dad this weekend.

He recalled that in the mid 80s, my grandma went on cruise that included a stop in Leningrad.

The KGB refused to allow her off the boat, and we have no clue as to why.

Heading Back Home

Taking the red eye from Seattle to Baltimore.

I'm in the plane waiting for the doors to close.


14 January 2018

Thirteenth Amendment, Schmirteenth Amendment………

It appears that private prison operators are coercing "voluntary" labor out of immigration detainees, in violation of the 13th amendment, which reads, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Apparently, the Constitution of the United States of America is not something that concerns the Department of Homeland Security:
Officials at a privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in rural Georgia locked an immigrant detainee in solitary confinement last November as punishment for encouraging fellow detainees to stop working in a labor program that ICE says is strictly voluntary.

Shoaib Ahmed, a 24-year-old who immigrated to America to escape political persecution in Bangladesh, told The Intercept that the privately run detention center placed him in isolation for 10 days after an officer overheard him simply saying “no work tomorrow.” Ahmed said he was expressing frustration over the detention center — run by prison contractor CoreCivic — having delayed his weekly paycheck of $20 for work in the facility’s kitchen.

Those in ICE custody often work for as little as $1 per day and cannot legally be compelled to work.

Ahmed’s account adds to a growing chorus of ICE detainees who allege that they have been forced to work in for-profit ICE facilities or else risk punishment with solitary confinement — a harsh form of captivity that, if prolonged, can amount to torture. Late last month, ICE detainees at a CoreCivic-run facility in California sued the private prison contractor, alleging that they had been threatened with solitary confinement if they did not work. In October, The Intercept reported that officials had placed another detainee in solitary confinement for 30 days for “encouraging others to participate in a work stoppage” at the same privately run facility where Ahmed was disciplined, the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.

CoreCivic has said that its practices of segregating detainees in individual cells are humane and has disputed the term “solitary confinement,” arguing that its harsh connotation does not apply to the publicly traded firm’s practices. “Use of the term in your coverage with regard to Stewart would give readers a false impression of the reality of restricted housing at the facility,” CoreCivic spokesperson Jonathan Burns said in an email.

But over the course of two interviews with The Intercept over a fuzzy detention center phone line, Ahmed used rudimentary English to describe being subjected to the isolating conditions of solitary confinement as it is generally understood. “The room is at all times locked,” Ahmed said. “If you talk, the sound does not go outside. And nobody comes to talk with us.”

“Sometimes I think I will be mentally sick,” Ahmed said of his time in isolation. “I feel pain in my head.”

In addition to severe isolation, Ahmed spoke of being subjected to restrictive treatment in segregation that might be more expected for a violent and volatile criminal than for an immigration detainee under punishment for encouraging a work stoppage.

………

In recent years, current and former ICE detainees have filed class-action lawsuits alleging forced labor against private prison contractors in Washington state, California, and Colorado. Across the country, detainees and advocates have said that the ICE contractors used solitary confinement as a cudgel to force work, and allege that the for-profit facility operators are profiting off the bonded labor.

“These big corporations are circumventing the traditional labor market,” said Lydia Wright, an attorney at the Burns Charest law firm who represents current and former ICE detainees suing CoreCivic in California. “If they weren’t requiring detainees to work for $1 per day, they would have to hire cooks and janitors at minimum wage.”

In an October response to a suit from detainees in Colorado, major private prison contractor GEO Group appeared to echo this point. “Were a court to conclude that GEO must pay thousands of detainees a minimum wage, it would significantly affect the prices that GEO would have charge for its services,” stated a GEO Group court filing. The Colorado class-action suit, which demands that detainees be paid minimum wage for their labor, “poses a potentially catastrophic risk to GEO’s ability to honor its contracts with the federal government,” the firm stated in a separate filing.

One obstacle such suits against ICE’s private contractors may face: Many of the immigrant plaintiffs are only fleetingly in the country before often being deported, making it potentially difficult, for instance, to find former detainees who may be entitled to back wages.
How convenient.

13 January 2018

Headline of the Day

Biden Trashes Millennials in His Quest to Become Even Less Likable
VICE
Yeah, pretty much.

12 January 2018

Scam Jujitsu, Online Style

Someone has developed a chatbot that screws around with scammers.

If you have some free time, you might want to avail yourself of this:
Chatbots. They’re usually a waste of your time, so why not have them waste someone else’s instead? Better yet: why not have them waste an email scammer’s time.

That’s the premise behind Re:scam, an email chatbot operated by New Zealand cybersecurity firm Netsafe. Next time you get a dodgy email in your inbox, says Netsafe, forward it on to me@rescam.org, and a proxy email address will start replying to the scammer for you, doing its very utmost to waste their time. You can see a few sample dialogues in the video above, or check out a longer back-and-forth below.
 Works for me.

Linkage, In Seattle for Nephew's Bar Mitzvah Edition


I found this hysterically funny, Charlie found it disturbing: