Today’s SF Chronicle has two remarkable opinion colums about state politics in California.

Debra Saunders, the token right-winger, reveals Carly Fiorina is a deadbeat. She owes $500,000 to her employees for her failed 2010 senate candidacy. What makes this laundry-airing remarkable is Fiorina is rumored to be running for President. And Saunders got Fiorina’s former campaign manager Marty Wilson on the record confirming the debt. Quite a takedown.

Also Slick Willie Brown’s normally terrible column is interesting this week in revealing the Democratic machine. He floats a trial balloon for how California’s top politicians might shuffle jobs in the next few years, with Harris for Boxer and Newsom for Jerry Brown. “The issue will be which of their clients they persuade to run for the Senate seat”; the “they” refers to consultancy Ace Smith. I guess they’re the ones calling the shots.

  2014-12-28 21:12 Z
  2014-08-14 16:47 Z

Mozilla, the creators of the Firefox browser and other important open web technologies, just appointed Brendan Eich as CEO. The problem is Brendan Eich donated $1000 to Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage referendum that set back marriage equality in California for five years. And now there’s a shitstorm.

I held my tongue on this for a few days to give Eich and Mozilla time to give their side of the story. Well, they did and it’s a mealy-mouthed non-explanation where Eich desperately tries to sidetrack any questions about his politics with a confusing endorsement of “inclusiveness” and Indonesians. It ends with him questioning the world’s faith in Firefox because his colleagues are calling him out on failing a basic measure of human decency. The interview is dishonest and disgusting.

I don’t think there should be a political litmus test for CEOs, even CEOs of mission-driven non-profits. It’d be fine with me if Eich were an NRA supporter or a no-tax Tea Partier or some other debatable position. But this isn't politics. Gay marriage is a civil right and Eich unapologetically contributed to deny me and my friends equal citizenship in the United States. It’s unacceptable and makes him unfit to be the CEO of Mozilla.

Apparently he doesn’t intend to apologize or recant. Fine. But it’s particularly appalling that he doesn’t even want to explain his position. I’d respect him more if he said “I oppose gay marriage because of my religious beliefs” or whatever, at least then he’d have some integrity. Instead he just wants us all to ignore his demonstrated anti-gay stance, a dishonesty and lack of courage. Unexamined bigotry is the most dangerous kind.

Brendan Eich must go. His position as CEO is threatening Mozilla’s future. Sadly there’s a crisis in the board of directors too. This kind of chaos destroys organizations.

  2014-04-02 15:37 Z
A slide from NSA's program to record all voice calls.
  2014-03-19 23:54 Z

This letter to the editor from Tom Perkins about the anti-tech backlash in SF is just breathtakingly stupid.

I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.” … This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?
This comparison is so obviously idiotic I’d just ignore it. But it’s by Tom Perkins, founder of Kleiner-Perkins, one of the most influential VC firms in the tech industry. Blogging it so we “never forget” if you know what I mean.

I’m concerned about the growing class tension in the SF Bay Area. While I think some of the rhetoric in the protests is deplorable there’s significant, meaningful issues of equality and access in the Bay Area that need to be addressed. But then to have some jackass come in and Godwin the whole discussion, in the Wall Street Journal no less, just ick.

Maybe it’s time for Kleiner Perkins to rebrand.

  2014-01-25 20:37 Z

AOL, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Yahoo joined today to ask for Global Government Surveillance Reform. While asking nicely isn’t likely to accomplish anything on its own, the public statement does move the discussion forward.

The request is sincere. I personally know people at Google and Twitter who’ve shaped their policies and they have just as much of a liberty / freedom of speech / Internet nerd background as you could hope. And all of these companies have a commercial interest in limiting spying to protect their international businesses. For example, NSA spying on Gmail is a significant threat to Google’s business plans in Europe. They have a self-serving reason to want to stop NSA overreach.

My concern is they don’t have any real hope of succeeding in what they’re asking. This request strikes me as particularly naïve: “governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications.”. Bulk data mining is a hugely valuable intelligence asset, there’s no way NSA is just going to stop collecting everything they can just because we ask nicely.

I think the requests for oversight and transparency are more realistic. Since the Snowden documents started coming out I’ve wavered between being appalled by NSA’s contempt for the Constitution and impressed by their technical capabilities. I accept at some level the US government needs an agency that, say, is hoovering up everyone’s cell phone movements as a way to track bad guys. The problem is that it’s illegal for NSA to collect that data against US citizens. And the current workaround for the Fourth Amendment is a ridiculous system with no meaningful judicial or legislative oversight.

The current state of surveillance threatens democracy; it has to change. The good news is some of America’s most powerful corporate interests also want to fix it.

  2013-12-09 17:51 Z

NSA has been illegally copying all internal Google and Yahoo traffic. Apparently Google’s move to encrypt their internal traffic was well motivated. But what’s really astonishing is the slide from NSA explaining the program.

Yes, it’s a fucking smiley face. “Lol 4th amendment jk”.

There’s been so many revelations about NSA’s spying this summer it’s hard to make sense of the big picture. But for me, there’s two big things. One: NSA is wholly (and illegally) spying on US citizens in direct violation of their mandate and the Constitution. Two: NSA is remarkably competent at spying, using big data and Internet technologies effectively. A competent spy agency with no effective public oversight fundamentally threatens American freedoms.

  2013-10-30 18:11 Z

Terrific news today; the Supreme Court decided that even despised homosexuals like me deserve equal protection under the 5th Amendment and have overturned the odious Defense of Marriage Act. It’s a hugely important decision that establishes federal support for gay marriage.

But let’s not forget how we got here, in 1996, when DOMA was passed. The Democrats were fully in power; Congress had a majority of Democrats in both houses and the President was a Democrat. And those rat bastards voted to deny people like me our constitutional rights by overwhelming majorities: 85–14 in the Senate, 342–67 in the House. And Clinton cheerfully signed it into law.

Of course the Republicans are even worse, but that's no surprise given their position as the party for bigots. Here’s a list of the Democrat senators who voted for DOMA. Many of them are still running the country.

Baucus, Biden, Bingaman, Bradley, Breaux, Bryan, Bumpers, Byrd, Conrad, Daschle, Dodd, Dorgan, Exon, Ford, Glenn, Graham, Harkin, Heflin, Hollings, Johnston, Kohl, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Mikulski, Murray, Nunn, Reid, Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Wellstone

Some of these folks have since recanted, but I kind of feel like each one owes me and every other gay American a personal apology.

Update: I was completely wrong about who controlled the 104th Congress when DOMA passed; the Republicans had swept into power in the 1994 elections. Many Democrats also voted for DOMA, but it would have passed even if they all voted against it. It still seems like a betrayal but the political calculation is a bit different.
  2013-06-26 23:58 Z

My health insurance company Anthem fell afoul of the Affordable Care Act by paying themselves $1.3 million more than the allowed 20% overhead. So they are required to issue a rebate to individual ratepayers like me, a whopping 0.1% of my yearly premium.

The accompanying letter is a masterpiece of passive-aggressive corporate communication. Check out my scan of the letter that shows up as page 2 of an invoice. All caps, monospace font, awkward formatting, it’s almost like they didn’t want us to read it! So I helped them out with this nicely formatted version. I typeset the letter for them but I didn’t correct the awkward grammar; such as inappropriate uses of commas, and the general awkward writing, such as extensive conjunctions.

Typography aside the real offense is Anthem chose to cut a bunch of tiny checks to their customers rather than just applying the money as a premium rebate. Maybe they’re hoping a significant fraction of people won’t bother to deposit the $2 checks. Or maybe the inconvenience is just in keeping with their general contempt for their customers.

  2012-07-19 22:46 Z
San Francisco's biggest health insurer, Anthem Blue Cross (and its partner Express Scripts), no longer allows its customers to buy prescription medicine at Walgreen's California's largest pharmacy. Why? Anthem claims it's about price. Walgreen's says it's anti-competitive behavior. People like you and I could care less about this squabble between two giant companies: we just want to take the medicine our doctor says we need to stay healthy.

I now have exactly one pharmacy within a mile of my house I'm allowed to use. It's a spooky place, so I'm going mail order. Of course Anthem and Express Scripts are right there to make it easy to order my medicine directly from them. Which I did, because what alternative do I have? Apparently anti-trust law doesn't apply to healthcare.

Capitalism does not work to provide health care efficiently. There can be no free market in healthcare: consumers are intensely limited by geography, insurance underwriting, and medical need. Regulatory requirements make competition from upstarts nearly impossible. The US spends 50%–100% more than every other industrialized nation on health care in total and spends just as much per-capita of public funds on health care as every European nation. But we have lower life expectancy. What we're doing now doesn't work.

  2012-01-12 19:42 Z