Saturday, March 23, 2019

Spotted in a San Francisco garden

It will all come out when it comes out. Whether whatever it is moves anything will depend on what results always depend on: will we the people make something happen? It's probably worth signing on with Indivisible.

Friday, March 22, 2019

5th Year Alex Nieto Angelversary

Elvira and Refugio Nieto, parents of Alex Nieto who was murdered by San Francisco police officers on Bernal Heights five years ago, look on as Aztec dancers open the commemorative ceremony.
Thanks to tireless community agitation, a city-approved Alex Nieto memorial will be built a short distance up the hill later this year.

Friday cat blogging

Morty is spending a lot of time in his house these days. He's well aware that his cave is a safe place to be when he suspects I want to give him his daily blood pressure pill. He gets it despite hiding. We work these things out.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Reading 2020 through a study of 2016

Racism done it; what a shock!

Political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck document overwhelmingly that the overriding factor which enabled Donald Trump's election was racial anxiety, or as I'd put it, white fragility in a society and culture feeling more and more unfamiliar to some white people by the day. They quote Hillary Clinton's summation approvingly:

... her campaign 'likely contributed to [2016's] heightened racial consciousness.' 'As a result,' she wrote, 'some white voters may have decided I wasn't on their side.'

This is their major, well-documented, take away, but the conclusion was not what has made Identity Crisis The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America valuable to me.

If for nothing else, I'd urge interested activists (and others) to consider two points that stood out to me in this book.

Many of us had a completely inadequate understanding in 2016 that any Presidential election after an incumbent from either party has been in office for eight years is going to be something close to a toss-up. I know this was not part of my thinking. After even a successful presidency, there will be pent up grievances and pressures and room for demanding some change. These authors conclude that Obama's strong approval ratings and the good economic conditions probably predicted something like "a 72 percent chance of a Democratic [Clinton] victory -- a real, but hardly definitive, advantage." A lot of us leaped from an intuitive sense that this was the case to a misplaced confidence that Clinton would certainly prevail over the manifestly weak Trump candidacy. Pollsters interpreted their own data in the same light; Nate Silver has maintained plausibly that the polls weren't so much wrong as that too many of us failed to look at them realistically.

Sheer volume of media coverage enabled Trump to dominate the Republican primary race; he just crowded out the rest of them. Trump was such a ratings draw that the TV networks sometimes covered his rallies (circuses of hate, I'd call them) even when nothing was happening. The authors describe the general principles:

... nominations often present a challenging task for voters. There can be lots of candidates, some of whom are familiar only to political cognoscenti. How then is a voter to know which candidates are "good"? Which candidates have adequate experience? Which candidates have beliefs that a voter shares? Which candidates can win the general election? Voters need information to answer these questions, and the news coverage helps to supply it.

... Candidates who meet standards of "newsworthiness" garner coverage. Because news coverage of campaigns typically focuses on the horse race -- which candidates are winning and losing, their campaign strategies, and the like -- candidates will earn more coverage when they raise large sums of money or do unexpectedly well in prediction polls or early primaries and caucuses. News coverage also features events that are novel -- such as when a candidate first announces his or her candidacy -- and episodes that make for good stories, with compelling characters and conflicts. When candidates succeed by any of these metrics, even if they have been largely ignored to that point, they will be suddenly "discovered" by media outlets and, therefore, by the public. Their poll numbers will increase ...


Does that description of a primary seem familiar? It should. We're in precisely that phase with the Democratic hopefuls these days. I am reading current 2020 coverage through a lens very much informed by this insight about media influence from Identity Crisis.

For example, here's a snippet this week from Thomas Edsall:

G. Elliott Morris, a political data reporter for the Economist, noted on Twitter that O’Rourke has received more cable news coverage in the five days since his announcement than any other candidate during the full post-announcement week. O’Rourke is on a path to get 180 percent of the coverage received by Bernie Sanders, the previous leader on this measure.

Will this move the polls? Will a lot of media attention bring more? We'll see. FiveThirtyEight has published an informative graphic showing how much coverage each current Dem aspirant received from their kick-off.

Or this from political scientist Brendan Nyhan:

With most candidates’ speeches and rallies generating relatively few headline-worthy sound bites, reporters and commentators often instead turn their focus to theater critic–style assessments of a candidate’s strategy and campaign skills. In its most dangerous form, this form of coverage centers on manufactured narratives about a candidate’s personality. These narratives often center on whether the candidate is “authentic” — a media construction that ignores the reality that all candidate behavior is strategic.

He's on to something there. The journalists need to shape an attention-grabbing story out of whatever politicians offer; they will flock to the off-beat and the bizarre. Then more coverage leads to more coverage ...

A reporter new to covering politics offers some revealing reflections from Iowa on the experience of following candidates in the early stages:

Voters listen to candidates differently from the way reporters do. I can see why people who cover these events regularly start to get cynical or at least start to tune out the message. After hearing it four times, even I could probably repeat Harris’s stump speech by the end of that day. But what I didn’t realize until I got here — and should have, and hope to remember — is that everyone in the crowd is hearing those speeches (and most importantly, those jokes) for the first time. I’ve probably heard Harris say Americans need to base policy on “science fact, not science fiction” about 15 times. But the elderly man in front of me in Ames still chuckled when he heard it Saturday night and elbowed his wife, who did the same.

Out of such as this are winners chosen. Not only this, but very much this. I'm sometimes skeptical of academic political science; is it really science? But I'm finding Identity Crisis very much applicable to our current moment.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

In honor of the 16th anniversary of George W. Bush's Iraq war ...

... this deserves to be recycled.

EP pointed out today that we weren't even thinking about the anniversary. I pointed out that for those of us in the peace movement who knew better, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a long running catastrophe which we anticipated (and protested), denounced (and protested), and bemoaned (and protested) from a year before "shock and awe" until years later when the people, the media, and the historians pronounced it an immoral clusterfuck.

Our friend Roy Eidelson reminds us that Bush, and Dick Cheney, and authoritarians everywhere understood that fearful people can be made suckers for immoral acts.

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country. -- Nazi leader Herman Goerring

Eidelson spells out the story in Stoking Fear.

Honoring Huli

San Francisco District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen honored her most cantankerous (and much loved) constituent Giuliana Milanese amidst Women's History Month festivities at City Hall yesterday.

Huli is always there for every working class cause that helps San Francisco remain its unconventional self -- for public education, for affordable housing, for Jobs with Justice. She's worked for every good politician we've had in decades and also for a lot of least-worst ones. Once they are elected, she yells at them.

Who but Huli would wear an "I'm not bossy; I just know what you should be doing" t-shirt to such an occasion? Friends filled the chamber to applaud.

The Board members she cajoles and torments all had to pose for the picture.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

From a vigil for the victims of New Zealand mosque shootings

At the Lake Merritt Amphitheater in Oakland CA, Monday, March 18.

"By doing more, we honor the beloved of god that were lost."

Monday, March 18, 2019

What is to be done about hate cults?

It was heartening this morning to see that New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been both asking her police/counter-intelligence apparatus to investigate whether they ought to have come across clues about the killer in their midst -- and also was pushing to reduce the killing capacity of legal guns. Those are the sort of governmental measures which are appropriate after an atrocity like the Christchurch massacre.

But being human, we also ask, why? What makes a young man from an unremarkable Australian family (which was "shattered" by his crime) into a monster? Why do some individuals take a violent direction?

Deeyah Khan makes films about this question. Raised in Norway, the child of Afghan and Pakistani Muslim parents, and now a Brit, she calls herself "born in the West to parents from the East." In 2015, she used her facility in several worlds to create the documentary Jihad: A Story of the Others. It consists of her revealing interactions with British Muslims who had once been attracted to violent extremism, but who had eventually found other paths through which to express their cultures and serve their communities.

Then Khan jumped off what might look like the deep end into a cesspool of hate, filming US white nationalists in action at Charlottesville, at a rural martial arts training camp, and in their homes. Yes, she reports, there were times when she was plenty scared for herself, a lone, brown, Muslim woman among these posturing men. The product is White Right: Meeting The Enemy.
The film is gripping and affecting. It will surprise few reading here that the "intellectual" super-stars of hate like Jared Taylor seen in the trailer are a lot less interesting than the foot soldiers. The "leaders" are just making a buck off their cult; many of the guys in trenches of this vicious movement are better captured in what one says of himself:

"I was an egomaniac with no self-esteem."

Of course, sometimes people who are their targets die -- at Charlottesville, in Charleston, and at Christchurch.

Both Khan's documentaries are available from Netflix; highly recommended.
Deeyah Khan shared challenging thoughts in a Vox interview about what we can do about these young men who endanger us all and who are suckers for far more evil people.

They want us to become really afraid; they want us to become divided; they want us to join their “us and them” thing. On a larger scale, I think we have to resist that. It’s an argument for celebrating and nurturing our diversity and nurturing our multicultural society, and our pluralism.

But on a more concrete, practical level, I think we need to support people who want to leave these groups, because we often underestimate how many people, once they’re in it, actually want to leave but find zero support, because everybody is so busy condemning these guys that nobody really wants to extend a hand to them and let them get out. I think that’s really, really important.

... I still feel positive and hopeful, because I do think change is possible, and I think it’s going to require us not giving up. All of these extremists want us to give up, to fear each other and them, to become more divided. And they don’t want us to be kind, or to show empathy, or to organize, or to vote, or to do any of that.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

More in response to the Christchurch massacre

Christopher Dickey, a veteran foreign and war correspondent, is The Daily Beast’s World News Editor. Located in Paris, which has suffered so much terrorism, he brings a clear-eyed perspective to the atrocity in New Zealand.

At the end of the day, and as difficult as the task may be, the war on white nationalist terrorism must be fought as a war of law enforcement and a war of ideas.

Police and prosecutors loyal to democratic values have to pursue investigations into white nationalist groups with the same zeal that has been applied to radical Muslim terrorist organizations.

Voters in Western nations have to understand that the fellow travelers of white nationalist terrorism are not acceptable participants in modern democracies, and vote them out, or see that they are prosecuted, or both.

The Daily Beast

This is both true and very difficult to take in for people of the liberal left who are accustomed to having to struggle to contain "law enforcement" authorities who too often use their access to force to terrorize and oppress vulnerable communities. Even here in oh-so-progressive San Francisco, vile racist and homophobic texts among police officers have emerged into public view. "Officer Friendly" is hard to imagine. But we need her.

To contain the lawlessness of white nationalism, we need active counter-intelligence, cops, and courts. That means demanding that law enforcement come through for democracy. It means supporting whatever law-respecting professionals exist in that system who understand their job is protect all the people, not just the white ones. There isn't any other way. (And by the way, this is also what some of us said and thought in the awful wake of 9/11. That would have made for a safer world.)

As for the "war of ideas" -- that's harder for me to think through. White nationalism doesn't strike me as having any intellectual content except fear, transparent misinformation, and gooble-de-gook created by bigots to disguise how vacuous are their prejudices. I'm not going to invest brain cells in understanding the fables of some French novelist who is selling "replacement" of the white race by Muslims (presumably African?) or those of flim-flam man Steve Bannon. There's no there there.

All this makes me glad that somebody somewhere, including EP, is teaching students to think critically. Kudos to all teachers who do that vital work day after day.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Governments: do your damn job!

In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, usually called ISIS in US media, broke into European and American consciousness with ugly videos of beheading of unfortunate western captives. Then they further intruded on our concern by attempting genocide against the Yazidis and overrunning parts of Iraq and Syria. The nations of the world mustered their superior technology and greater wealth of force and smashed this vicious bunch.

I'm something close to a pacifist. I've spent a life criticizing how the US throws its weight around in other peoples' countries. But I'm not distressed by the suppression of ISIS. If there is any circumstance in which government is justified in using its overwhelming force, it is to protect the vast majority of people from murderous fanatics.

So why can't we expect governments to use the tools they possess against the global networks of white supremacy? There's no physical territory involved so this is not about widespread deployment of bombs and guns. But governments should use every legal tool to stamp out and eradicate the whole online infrastructure of "white replacement" ideology that provides the sea in which terrorists like killers in Charleston, Pittsburgh, Oak Creek, and New Zealand swim. And they should be energetic and ruthless.

Oh I know -- at least in the U.S., people have the right to advocate things which others find offensive. But there are limits. We are accumulating a bloody record that shows rightwing racists have been crying fire in a crowded theater of resentments and fears -- and that's not legal speech.

A responsible government would find a way to close these people down before they kill more. Most of them are not blameless citizens (hardly anyone is when the legal eagles get going.) They can be vulnerable to legal constraint if the rest of us want it. We need action.

As Adam Serwer reports:

[in January 2019] the Anti-Defamation League released a report finding that attackers with ties to right-wing extremist movements killed at least 50 people in 2018. That was close to the total number of Americans killed by domestic extremists, meaning that the far right had an almost absolute monopoly on lethal terrorism in the United States last year. That monopoly would be total if, in one case, the perpetrator had not “switched from white supremacist to radical Islamist beliefs prior to committing the murder.”

The number of fatalities is 35 percent higher than the previous year, and it marks the fourth-deadliest year for such attacks since 1970. In fact, according to the ADL, white supremacists are responsible for the majority of such attacks “almost every year.”

Yes, we have our own rightwing troll in White House these days. But he too can be constrained if masses of us want it. It's okay to demand of government that it do its legal job and squash this stuff before it grows further. Back to basics: governments are instituted among humans by the people for the defense of the governed.

Friday, March 15, 2019


Of necessity, there is this ... the activists get younger and younger.

A continuing trend ...

The California Republican Party continues to shrink as a percentage of the state electorate.

... since 2015, Democrats have added 1 million new voters, while Republicans have dropped 250,000.

“It’s a terrible situation,” said Tony Quinn, a former GOP consultant who is now a senior editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which tracks state political races. “They’re not getting new voters, and they’re losing the ones they have.”

One of the party’s biggest obstacles in California is President Trump, who has virtually no strong backing in a deep-blue state that lacks the coal miners, steelworkers and other blue-collar types who form his base in other states, Quinn added.

“There’s nothing in California that works in the Republicans’ favor,” he said. “The demographic growth is in Latinos and Asians, who back Democrats, and the decline is in older white people, who are the Republican constituency.”

San Francisco Chronicle

Dems also have little to be complacent about; young registrants aren't flocking to the donkey party either.

Through Feb. 10, 142,717 16- and 17-year-olds pre-registered to vote, Secretary of State Alex Padila reports. Their affiliation:

  • No-party preference: 51.5 percent
  • Democrats: 31.66 percent
  • Republicans: 10.42 percent


Does this trend reflect a feeling that democratic (small "d") politics mean nothing to these new voters? Or does living in a one party state feed a feeling that politics is an irrelevance?

I wish I could be confident that this apparent complacency won't be broken by an abrupt discovery that young Californians need government to work, whether because of human or climate disaster.

Friday cat blogging

"I know you can't reach me. I'm curious about you."

Or so I assume that looks means. Urban cats are usually cautious and curious. I guess so are most people they share the turf with.

Via Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Newsom's bet for life

Congratulations to all the dedicated advocates who have worked for decades to end the death penalty in California, especially Death Penalty Focus and the ACLU. Gov. Gavin's moratorium certainly isn't the last word; there will be lawsuits trying to ensure the state kills more people. This remains a terrible way to get to this end -- through invocation of unchecked executive authority. We've seen that sort of move often enough and many of us didn't like it.

But for the moment, our 737 death row inmates won't have to face execution; a handful of vengeful county prosecutors can try to add to their number with new death convictions, but they are going to look like the terrible spendthrifts these officials are when they commit tax dollars to winning something unlikely ever to happen.

It's worth reflecting on why it has been so hard to get to this point. I bring to this the experience of working to replace the death penalty with sentences of life without parole by initiative in 2012. We fell two percentages points short; the state's tussle over permitting executions ground on and on.

California's death penalty law was put in place by a voter initiative in 1978; it can only be altered by another statewide popular vote. The legislature can't end death sentences, though it sure seems likely that the current majorities would repeal. (On the other hand, elected officials aren't heroes -- many probably like having this decision out of their hands.) Bob Egelko, who has been covering the issue for decades for the SF Chronicle, has assembled a thorough catalogue and discussion of Newsom's assertions in favor of his moratorium, all available at the link:
  • Death penalty applied unfairly based on race;
  • It is unfair to those with mental disability;
  • Innocent people have been sentenced to death;
  • The death penalty is expensive;
  • It does not make communities safer;
  • Most nations have dropped capital punishment.
Oddly, since Californians have continued to vote narrowly for the death penalty for a decade, what I learned in 2012 is that executions simply are NOT a high salience issue for voters. We haven't executed anyone since 2006 and it has long appeared that legal challenges meant we weren't likely to execute any of the current 737 condemned before they die of natural causes. The most common reminder of the death penalty for many of us would be a tiny news notice that yet another convict at San Quentin had died on the row.

There is a smallish fraction of us who are rabidly pro-death penalty -- perhaps 30 percent or less whose horror at vicious crimes seems to them to require social revenge killing. There is a similar size fraction, many religious, who experience the continuation of state-sponsored legal killing as morally barbarous.

But an awful lot of Californians don't think about the death penalty much, except when asked to vote on one of our occasional ballot measures. None of the statewide measures voted on in recent years have been headline initiatives. Vast crowds of other, better funded, even more controversial, subjects have commanded higher profiles. The unconcerned middle hasn't really been forced to grapple with the issue. The California death penalty has been floating along on inertia and status quo bias for a while now.

Gov. Gavin has simply made the bet that the underlying stasis he's made more certain by the moratorium will not harm him instate -- while greatly enhancing his liberal reputation nationally. I suspect this is a winning bet.
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