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Monterey County Weekly: A look inside the California Electoral College vote.

December 20, 2016

dsc_9286Sitting in a cafe a block from the Capitol building in Sacramento just after 11am on Dec. 19, Vinz Koller anxiously monitors Electoral College votes on the East Coast. He’s contemplating committing a crime in a few hours, by voting against the will of the people in the state of California with his vote in the Electoral College.

The staunch partisan and outgoing chair of the Monterey County Democratic Party supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But, in a last-ditch effort to block the presumptive President-elect Donald Trump from ascending to the White House, Koller has fashioned himself as a “Hamilton Elector.”

The goal, spurred by Texas Republican and elector Christopher Suprun, is to get 37 electors for Trump in red states to cast their ballot for someone else, thereby blocking the 270 electoral votes needed to get the presidency. If that were to happen, the president would be decided on Jan. 6 by the U.S. House of Representatives, which would choose from the top three Electoral College vote getters.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

Monterey County Weekly: The gig economy and the future of work.

November 23, 2016

5835cc958f9c1-magnifiedDriving his Mazda 3 through the streets of Salinas, Mark Gurley, a 54-year-old fond of Hawaiian shirts, watches his smartphone chirp as he is flagged by a customer through the Uber app. He picks up his customer then drives them to their destination. This is a pattern he follows, around 18 times a day, every day, for nearly 100 hours a week.

“I love Uber,” Gurley says enthusiastically. “It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

His use of the word “job” is loaded. That word is at the center of a controversy with 240,000 Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts who filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, arguing they should be classified as employees rather than independent contractors, and should be entitled to recover mileage and expenses.

Uber came to a $100 million settlement with drivers last spring. That settlement was then rejected in August at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Uber drivers were directed to settle their claims through independent arbitration.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

Monterey County Weekly: California’s confidential fishing rights leave millions of dollars in mystery.

July 16, 2016

577d630039379.imageNearly 30,000 watts of stadium lights hang from the rigging of a light boat off the Channel Islands in Southern California. Once flipped on, the lights slowly increase their illumination. After five minutes, the 2am darkness on deck has transformed into a gleam resembling a San Francisco Giants night game at AT&T Park.

Squid fishing in California is done at night with one boat equipped with lights to attract and hold the squid in one spot, partnered with another larger boat with a seine – a 1,000-plus-foot-long fishing net – to bring in the catch.

I peer into the calm ocean and see a milky mass rise to the surface, as hundreds of thousands of squid emerge from the depths – translucent, with large eyes reflecting light like a cat’s would.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

Monterey County Weekly: Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail in California

June 2, 2016

The night after Bernie Sanders watched the Golden State Warriors come from behind in Oakland to take out the Oklahoma City Thunder in game seven, he came to the Central Coast in an attempt to pull off a surprising result himself.

While addressing a crowd of 7,800 people in front of Colton Hall in Monterey on May 31, Sanders displayed a Warriors cap and asked the crowd, “Is this the right hat?”

In a speech that lasted more than an hour, the independent senator from Vermont stuck to the main talking points of his campaign: Break up Wall Street banks deemed “too big to fail,” create Medicare for all, make public colleges and universities tuition-free and take money out of politics.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

Monterey County Weekly: With the Bracero Legacy Project, an artist and historian reframe the story of bracero farm workers.

May 26, 2016

A flatbed truck converted into a bus carried 55 braceros – farm workers on temporary visas – from labor camp in Chualar to celery fields in the Salinas Valley on September 17, 1963. The bus collided with an oncoming train, killing 32 and leaving the rest mangled and injured.

The tragedy in Monterey County garnered national headlines and the bracero program, which was maligned by Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement that rallied around him, was soon killed by Congress. The legacy of the braceros has remained in a cloud since, often remembered by the painful conclusion.

In the narrative of social justice in the fields, the bracero program – which brought more than 2 million men from Mexico to work the land in the United States from 1942 to 1964 – has long been one derided as one that exploited immigrant workers. It was also viewed as bad for domestic workers, who saw their wages decline.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

2016 San Francisco International Film Festival program notes

April 21, 2016

SFIFF59-LOCKUP_VER_Blk(0)Here are two program notes I wrote on two great films from South America for the San Francisco Film Society’s 2016 San Francisco International Film Festival (April 21-May 5).

Neon Bull (2015)

Strange and erotic, with an unexpected view of gender roles, this film is set in the macho world of bull wrangling yet its male protagonist is interested in fashion and designs dresses. In dusty farmland with scattered signs of heavy industrialization in Northeast Brazil, a cowhand, Iremar, nurtures his passion on the side. Drawing clothes on women in a co-worker’s nudie magazine and toting mannequins with him in the back of a truck while taking bulls around the rodeo circuit, he pursues his true calling. When a handsome new worker comes to help, a hothouse atmosphere erupts among the small group of cowboys. Director Gabriel Mascaro’s film depicts an environment where most animals endure harsh treatment, but within that reality, steamy fantasy abounds; for example, Iremar designs the provocative horse-themed costumes his truck-driving boss Galega wears in the sexy dance routines she performs at the end of each rodeo. Read more…

Salero (2015)

Moises Chambi Yucra and his family stand at the crossroads of time. For generations they have made a humble living as saleros harvesting salt from Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. The blinding-white high-altitude flat has survived the impact of the miners’ pickaxes, shovels and late-model trucks for a millennia, but beneath Uyuni sit massive amounts of lithium, a mineral instrumental in powering smartphones and electric vehicles. With stunning cinematography that captures both the vibrancy and the solitude of the land and life, director Mike Plunkett captures the final days of an age-old livelihood. His camera reveals a wisdom and peace of mind found only from working for years in pristine nothingness. Read more…

Monterey County Weekly: New apps take high school bullying and threats to a new level.

April 21, 2016

57180899519c1.imageIt’s a teenager’s worst nightmare: naked selfies sent to another teen in an act of foolish confidence end up online, where they are openly displayed for their classmates’ intrigue and ridicule.

This happened to a few students at Monterey High School over the winter. Classmates say the betrayal of having pictures posted they thought would be kept private by the recipient kept some kids from school for a few days.

When they finally returned, their humiliation was palpable.

Posting nude photos of underage people is a crime (even if the one doing the posting is also underage), and while the Monterey Police Department has investigated the incidents, there are few leads that could result in an arrest.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…