Friday, December 02, 2011

New eBook Availalbe

I've been playing around with the idea of publishing some ebooks of various material I've written over the years, and the first result of that experiment is now available for Nooks, iPads, Kindles, and most any other device you might have: A Bottomless Cup of Coffee (Short Stories).

I've self published before - several of the stories in A Bottomless Cup originally appeared in the print collection, Aaron’s Intifada and Other Short Stories (still available on, and my Introduction to Fund Development Planning continues to sell (available on as well) - but I've not done any eBook specific projects, which is odd considering how involved I've been with social media and online content creation.

Anyway, I'm now entering the eBook age, and hopefully this is just the first of many projects. If you want to check out the new eBook, it's yours for about two bucks at:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Occupation is Over: Long Live the Occupation

News from Portland is that the parks have been cleared of all OWS protesters. Closer to home, efforts have been made in Oakland and Santa Cruz to end, or severely curtail, the extent of encampments and daily protests. In the online world it is in current fashion to write Occupy Obituaries, with a general theme of "enough is enough," repeating some popular myths about the movement, and be done with all this protesting nonsense before the holiday shopping season. So, here's my attempt at summing up a few points.

1 - "Enough Already" - Of course, the far right, tea party crowd never supported OWS, but this last week I've seen many posts from people who describe themselves as (at least somewhat) liberal echoing that they're bored of OWS, sick of seeing/hearing about the protesters, worried about conditions in the camps (see #5), and "most important", concerned about the cost to the taxpayers for law enforcement and park clean-up.

While I understand and appreciate each of those concerns, none of them rises to the level where a repeal of the Bill of Rights seems to be necessary. There's nothing in the First Amendment that limits "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" only to when it's convenient for commuters, good for business, in the budget, or when it's sunny outside.

I've not been very active in OWS, but I have spent some time at Occupy Santa Cruz (attended a couple of General Assemblies, took part in protesting, brought food and supplies to the campers). I am also a tax payer and I protest because I pay more in federal taxes than General Electric, PG&E, Dupont, Wells Fargo, and Verizon ... combined.

Is there a cost to the taxpayer (me!) for exercising our right to free speech? Yes. Of course there is. Just as there is a huge cost for elections, multiple branches of government, etc. Democracy and freedom are far more expensive than dictatorship, and generally worth the investment. Freedom is not cost effective, but I'll take it anyway.

And I really don't care if you preface your posting with "I supported them for a while, but..." Whether or not the protests are well organized, whether they have fifty million or only a single supporter, whether or not you've reached the end of you're limited attention span doesn't much matter. Either you support freedom of speech or you don't. You don't get to pick and choose the voice, the time, or the place.

2 - "Get a Job!" - Much of the criticism from the right, that the bench-warmers on the left now seem to have accepted is that the occupiers are all unemployed, on the public dole, and just looking for a hand-out. I can't speak for other cities, but in talking to people at Occupy Santa Cruz I've been surprised by how many of the key people are employed full-time. And not just among the day-time protesters, but even those camping out are packing up at 6 AM, running home for a quick shower, and then going to work before returning the camp in the evening.

The occupiers I've spoken with include lawyers, high-tech engineers, and other "respectable" sorts. Yes, there are people there who are victims of the economic downturn, who have lost their jobs, homes, health care, etc., but they are not the total occupy population.

3 - "Get a Message" - As much as people are repeating the mainstream media's contention that the OWS protesters have no message, I find it hard to believe that there's anybody outside of Fox News who doesn't know that this is about economic injustice, from the ponzi scheme that led to the foreclosure crisis, to the bailing out of the very banks that profited from that ponzi scheme, to Congress' inaction on any comprehensive jobs bill, to the Supreme Court's declaration that corporations are people.

Considering the lack of centralized leadership (see #4) or the engagement of a national PR firm, there's remarkable unity in this message across all the occupations, and coordination of imagery/branding. Yes, there's other complaints being voiced, but the overall theme of economic injustice has been clear.

Others admit that the message is clear, but follow up quickly with, "Complaining is easy, give us solutions." I agree, it's easy to say the outhouse stinks, but tearing it down before installing modern plumbing is a bad idea. Looking back at that First Amendment again, however, I don't see that the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances is limited to those who have ready solutions.

Meanwhile, looking at the signs of protesters I see that they are offering some ideas, whether required or not, including closing tax loopholes and ending corporate welfare, a Constitutional Amendment reversing the Citizens United decision, forgiveness of student loans, prosecution of those responsible for the foreclosure scandal, the passage of a comprehensive jobs bill, and much more.

(And, going back to #2 and the idea that the protesters are all just looking for something for nothing, the only one of the above demands that comes close to that is student loan forgiveness. Most of the protesters are willing to pay their fare share; they only want the same from the corporations and for their government to put people first.)

4 - "Get a Leader" - One of the most frustrating things for the mass media has been the lack of a single person, already in their contacts list, who they can call for comment. This "everybody's a leader" has been great in getting more people involved, amusing to watch the press attempt to navigate, as well as frustrating to those of us in General Assemblies who lack the patience to herd cats for even the most basic and simple decisions.

But beyond being a symbol of the desire for true democracy and consensus, the distributed leadership has been one of the messages of OWS. Distrust of leadership - any leadership - is such an inescapable symptom of our current global political crisis, that OWS protesters rejected any form of hierarchy, even when it would have benefited them.

The right also recognizes and feeds on this distrust of self-appointed leaders. The irony is that the Tea Party protests have been largely funded by the Koch Brothers, and that two of the largest Tea Party groups are suing each other over trademarks and (more vital and valuable) mailing lists. The right's answer to distrust of leaders has been pure astro-turf and deception.

As messy as some Occupy meetings have been, at least it was authentic. But, to move forward, the movement will have to develop some form of leadership, as distasteful as many may find that to be.

5 - "We're Concerned for their Health & Safety" - Yes, it's a concern when you have a few hundred people camping out with a couple of port-o-potties and no showers. But it's their choice. This "we have to clear them out for their own good" argument would have been more effective if the first several times I heard it wasn't from people who opposed health care reform and want to dismantle the EPA and OSHA.

There's much more to write about the Occupy movement, and I'm sure there will be ample opportunity to do so in the future. Yes, there have been problems with the way the occupations have been handled, some of which have kept me from becoming more personally involved, but on the whole I still believe they have been a good thing.

While many of the camps have been cleared for now, I don't believe this is over by a long shot. Lessons will be learned, leadership will be developed, and the people will not politely go inside and be quiet.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Verdict In: Football More Important than Child Abuse

By now you know the story: In 2002 a graduate student at Penn State witnessed an assistant coach sodomizing a young boy in the showers. He tried to report it to university authorities and was given the run-around. Now, nine years later, that assistant coach is finally facing charges of molesting several boys over a 15 year period. Also charged are a couple of the university officials who led the cover-up.

Two officials who were aware of the accusations and did nothing, but are not currently under arrest, include legendary football coach Joe Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier. Well, make that former coach Paterno and former president Spanier; the Board of Trustees canned them each last night for their failure to protect children from the sexual predator they knew was on their staff.

That should be the end of the story. Justice served. Far later than it should have been, but the right thing to do.

But no. In America we pretend to care about child abuse. But apparently we care about winning football games even more.

Shortly after the news of Peterno's firing was announced, riots broke out on the Penn State campus protesting the actions of the trustees. Preserving the legend of beloved "JoePa," it seems, is more important than any little boys who make have been robbed of their innocence and youth.

Paterno now says (in his prepared statement), "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." Is that the hindsight that by protecting his former heir apparent many more children were abused, or the hindsight that it would end his career in disgrace? I fear it's only the second that motivated that minor bit of remorse.

The coaches and officials at Penn State are not alone in their quiet dismissal of societal condemnation of abusing and raping children. Another major story this last week was the release of a video showing a Texas judge brutally whipping his teenage daughter.

One would think that the judge would have no supporters, but up steps a former English Headmaster to reminisce about the good old days of beating children for a living. While he faults the judge for having acted out of anger, instead of calmly and dispassionately beating his child, this headmaster has no regrets and offers no apologies, "I was merely doing my job in upholding the discipline of the school."

Sure, protecting children is important. But not when it interferes with maintaining order or winning football games. We are Penn State. Go Team!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ending Corporate Personhood

Way back in 2002, Congress passed the bi-partisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly referred to as McCain–Feingold in reference to its primary sponsors. One of the provisions of McCain–Feingold prohibited corporations (for-profit, nonprofit, unions, etc.) from broadcasting “electioneering communications” either for or against a particular candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary.

Last year (January 2010), the Supreme Court struck down that provision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on the grounds that it violated their first amendment rights to free speech. While there have been many laws and court decisions over the years that have treated corporations like people or citizens, Citizens United was never-the-less a landmark in overtly saying that the protections of the Bill of the Rights are explicitly applied to corporations as well as people.

Justice Stevens, in his dissenting opinion, wrote:
At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding... It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense.
In the nearly two years since then, many have talked about the need to over-turn this decision. Part of that is the movement to amend the Constitution to be clear that corporations are not people, and are not entitled to the same rights and protections as persons, and that money is not speech!

To learn more about this movement, and add your name to the petition, see

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupying This Blog

I have been having many conversations with friends the last few weeks about the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and have been down to take part in Occupy Santa Cruz for a few hours at a time on a couple of occasions, so it seems fitting I should finally post something here as well.

Part of what I have found surprising is that some of the friends who I would have expected to be the most supportive of this movement have been the most skeptical of it, while I see support coming from a few unlikely quarters.

Some of my associates who have been with me through a few decades of protests, from the anti-nuclear movement to trying to prevent and/or end a few wars, are impatient with the "start-up phase" and distrustful of some of the younger leaders of the Occupations. But what gives me hope is the support from people who've never been a part of any mass movement, but who are now ready to take a stand.

I find myself frustrated with those who have bought the mainstream media line that "there's no message." Spend any amount of time at your local Occupation and it's quite clear that this is about economic justice. Within that theme, there are specifics around a fair tax code, re-regulation of the banks and bringing the crooks behind the foreclosure crisis to justice, and the end of corporate personhood.

But, even if it weren't that clear, what does anybody expect from a movement that's barely a month old? On top of that, a movement that's based on consensus and democracy, without clear pre-existing leadership? I'm actually pretty amazed at the success of the OWS movement so far, with over 1,000 local occupations in support of the original in NYC.

I feel the greatest success is simply that people are talking about the protests and economic justice. People have discovered that they are not alone; there are millions of us who are angry but are not represented by the tea partiers. And, they are willing to take to the streets to return democracy to the people.

The media would prefer that there be one spokesperson with whom they are already familiar and whose staff is already in their speed-dial. They don't like the messiness of consensus building among large groups. It takes time, and can be endlessly frustrating. But nobody promised that revolution would be easy or pretty.

Remember, it took the Continental Congress two years to get around to passing that Declaration of Independence. I'm willing to give the Occupy movement a few more months before being disappointed that they failed to change the world.

A couple of obligatory links:
* Who are "the 99%" who are protesting?
* Where can I find Occupy (My Town)?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More Popular Lies

You know,  the classics: "War is peace. Freedom is slavery." And today's favorite, "Tax cuts create jobs."

The right's answer to solving the nation's economic woes has for the last thirty years been the dictum that cutting taxes creates jobs which, in turn, increases revenue, thus decreasing the deficit. Maybe sometime when I have all day to get way into economics I'll do an extended blog post about the Laffer Curve, and it's misapplication by opportunists, but today let's keep it pretty basic.

Check the trajectory of our debt and job growth: The above theory has been empirically proven wrong again and again over the same thirty year period.

A few of the facts (not ideological theories, but observable, measurable events):
  1. The Federal tax burden is at its lowest point in 60 years.
  2. The debt exploded the most under Presidents Reagan and Bush (Jr.), the Presidents most closely associated with the above economic theory.
  3. Job growth under George W. Bush, perhaps the strongest believer in "tax cuts create jobs" - even more so than Reagan - was the worst in 75 years, since Herbert Hoover and the start of the Great Depression.
Let's take a quick look at the 32 years leading up to the current administration:

PresidentJob Growth
Bush (I)0.6
Bush (II)0.2

Now, let's say I run a widget company. No amount of tax cuts will ever convince me to hire a new widget salesperson. The only thing that would convince me to hire a new salesperson is demand for more widgets.

The best thing for increasing demand is a growing economy that inspires consumer confidence. And, as we've seen, the economic answers of modern conservatives have repeatedly failed to do that.

We currently have a President who is at least nominally "progressive" in many areas, but held hostage to a conservative Congress, and all too willing to go along with them far too often.

What he seems prepared to go along with now is cutting Social Security benefits to appease the right. Do you believe that cutting the spending power of a large group of Americans is going to increase or decrease consumer demand? Cutting Social Security to "balance" a cut in taxes will be a double hit to the economy.

The Republican lies about economic growth have been repeated so many times that it seems the majority of the public believes them, despite the facts. Well, it's time for us to wake up and say enough is enough. It's time for the President and the remaining Democrats to stand up and tell the public the hard truth: we can't afford another tax cut today.

No, you don't create jobs by cutting taxes or benefits, and - listen carefully - you can't save the economy by defaulting on the national debt.

Read more here - and here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In Memory of Jim Harris

Jim Harris was a computer consultant, a software developer & programmer, a teacher, a union organizer, president of a trade school, a gifted musician, and a social activist. It is in that last role that I became aware of Jim, soon after he and Pat Murphy co-founded Progressive Secretary in 1997.

Progressive Secretary was not the first organization to see the potential for using email and the net and what we now call "social media" to encourage activism, and bring people together for progressive causes ( had them beat by at least a year), but they were certainly early in the line.

And, for all the changes and advances in technology in the last fourteen years, Progressive Secretary has remained true to their original, simple concept:
Progressive Secretary sends out progressive email letters to Congress, the President, and other officials on peace, the environment, civil rights and other issues.

The letters are suggested by participants in the cooperative and are sent to you as a proposal. If you tell us to "send", then the letters are sent ... over your signature and return address.
Whether or not you consider yourself a "progressive" or not, and whether or not you agree with Jim's politics is not my point here today. It's the simple elegance of the concept of using email to organize cooperative grassroots campaigns. So obvious today; not so much in 1997.

Today, the flip side is that such efforts have become so commonplace that they are derided as "slacktivism" - faux activism designed to appeal to the lazy. But Jim Harris was no slacktivist. He worked for social justice all his life, was part of the Civil Rights movement, going to Mississippi with SNCC, and later working with Cesar Chavez and the UFW. When he co-founded Progressive Secretary in 1997, he was recovering from leukemia, and considered it part of his healing.

Jim finally passed last Friday, June 3, of glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. There will be a Quaker memorial service today at the Sacramento Friends Meeting House. He was seventy-years old. Progressive Secretary lives on.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

50 to 50

It's early June, and today we're having record rains... So I stayed inside all afternoon and wrote and recorded a new song... Didn't intend for it to be so sappy. Sorry about that.

   50 to 50 by kenrg

50 to 50
© 2011 K.R. Goldstein

today it's hard to see through the rain
but I feel it coming around again
reviewing it all from way back when
and long-lost friends

the cast of characters come and go
some too fast and some to slow
only the rare have a chance to rust
turn to American dust

to those I've loved and those who cared
hold up high those times we dared
when all was lost and all was found
we held our ground

this next big day could turn the tide
of this long confusing ride
set the course for the final stretch
of this comic sketch

can't let all these aches and pains
tie me down with battleship chains
and if the wind blows it all away
refuse to fade away

(not fade away, not fade away, not fade away)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bye Bye Borders

By now you've probably heard that Borders Books is entering bankruptcy and will be closing many of its stores. The two Borders outlets nearest me are both on the list to be axed. This blog post is not so much about Borders itself, but a comparison of the two towns that are losing the massive retailer.

On one side we have the beach-side college town of Santa Cruz, and on the other the Silicon Valley suburb of Los Gatos.

Santa Cruz is known for being on the funky side. The shops downtown cater to a younger, hipper audience. Walking down Pacific Avenue on any given day, you're likely to encounter several street musicians and even more homeless (or near-homeless) asking for handouts.

Los Gatos is known for being decidedly more upper-crust. The shops are high-end and expensive, and the restaurants compete with San Francisco for cutting-edge gourmet dining experiences. Only one homeless person at a time is allowed on North Santa Cruz Avenue (yes, Los Gatos' main drag is called "Santa Cruz").

Santa Cruz culture emphasizes the small, the local, the sustainable, the unique. Los Gatos also stresses unique and special, but is more open to corporate influence and its perceived worldliness. In Santa Cruz many of the shop windows have signs for the 3/50 Project - a nationwide campaign to get people to shop locally. I'm not sure I've ever seen 3/50 references in Los Gatos.

Santa Cruz has always been home to multiple bookstores, each with their own specialties and market niches. When Borders announced they were moving in, there were protests saying the chain store was neither needed nor welcome. Since Borders opened there's been some changes in the local book scene, but they never managed to supplant the major local players.

Borders was welcomed with open arms in Los Gatos, where, at the time, there were only two other bookstores: One locally-owned specialty mystery bookstore and one Crown Books discount book chain outlet. Shortly after Borders came, each of these closed. The Crown is now the Pier One Imports and the mystery book shop is now quite an excellent little restaurant.

The loss of Borders in Los Gatos means the closest thing to a bookstore will be going to the Apple Store and purchasing an iPad to read your iBooks. For as much emphasis as Los Gatos places on being a place of "culture" and refinement, the lack of a bookstore should be a major embarrassment. For a community that bases its overblown property values in a large part on the quality of its schools, the inability of the town's adults to support even one bookstore demonstrates where their real values are.

For Santa Cruz, the loss of Borders won't alter the town's voracious appetite for literature and learning in the least. The only concern for Santa Cruz will be such a large vacant space in a prominent location.

Is your community ready for the loss of Borders? What if the other large box retailers were to pull out of your town? Do you have any more local retailers left?

Support your local bookseller and read about the 3/50 Project before it's too late.

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