Saturday, February 06, 2016

Campaigns run on filled stomachs

In keeping with my ongoing interest in nuts and bolts of political campaigns, I offer this from Gawker:
In the first campaign I worked on as an adult, one of the main concerns of the field director -- sometimes it seemed the sole concern -- was how much we'd spent on pizza.

Pizza is an essential ingredient of any campaign with volunteers. Evidently Fiorina doesn't have any.

Eight years ago, I propounded my basic typology of campaign food and I doubt much has changed.

If the campaign is run by labor and the volunteers are working class people, there will be donuts.

If the campaign is run by community advocates and recruits the employees of non-profit organizations, there will be bagels.

As in many arenas, Bernie is breaking new ground. Can anyone think of a prior candidate who had this going for them?

Friday, February 05, 2016

Where they stand on the death penalty

It's no surprise that most of the Republican presidential hopefuls like executions. (Jeb! has some doubts, but nobody much expects him to be around in this race much longer.)

Ted Cruz: “I believe the death penalty is recognition of the preciousness of human life: that for the most egregious crimes, the ultimate punishment should apply.”

Marco Rubio: “Protracted legal battles in death penalty cases hinder justice for the victims and erode public confidence in Florida’s criminal justice system.”

Donald Trump: “I have always been a big believer, and continue to be, of the death penalty for horrendous crime.”

There is, however, a difference between the two Democrats on this matter:

Hillary Clinton: “I do think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve the consideration of the death penalty, but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare, as opposed to what we’ve seen in most states.”

Bernie Sanders: “The state itself, in a democratic, civilized society, should itself not be involved in the murder of other Americans.”

I wonder whether the pressure of running against a progressive challenger might nudge Clinton off her present position; early in her career she opposed the death penalty. Currently, according to Pew, 57 percent of Democrats oppose death sentences while 40 percent approve.

Thanks to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for the candidate statements.

Last night the two candidates discussed the issue directly:

Friday cat blogging

Credit Erudite Partner for this photo. Morty becomes even more assiduous in his affections when one of us is out of town. That is, you can't escape him.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

#TackleHomelessness -- send the Super Bowl home

Like many San Franciscans, I'm disgusted with civic leaders who have given over downtown to the Super Bowl -- and furious that they have sent the San Francisco Police Department out to tear up tents used by homeless people and to push them out of sight of the tourists.

Our city is home to about 6500 people sleeping outside, according to last summer's count.

Yesterday, some of these people, and their friends, brought their tents to the perimeter of the downtown streets fenced off for Super Bowl promotional activities. The police warned the tents would be seized if set up on the ground, so they were held up in the air.

Homeless people have a lot of support here from Giants fans ...

... as well as 49er fans.

Among the crowd was Vicki Gray, a counselor with the San Francisco Night Ministry.
“This Super Bowl City is a moral disaster area,” she said. “Homeless people are human beings who deserve to have adequate social services and health services. We want affordable housing now.”

San Francisco Chronicle, 2/3/2016

Lest the protest disturb business as usual (it didn't), the SFPD was out in force ...

... complete with their armored golf cart.

I love football, but I'll be mighty glad when this San Francisco giveaway to billionaires leaves town.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

They just don't get it ...

... and they fumble about for explanations. This chart (from Gallup, by way of Kevin Drum) certainly suggests why our news (and infotainment) media have a hard time grasping what this long presidential campaign is about, differently, but in both parties. If the media are taking their cues from the Washington establishment of either party (and it would shocking if they did not), the narratives they are being fed derive from a milieu where people are enjoying a very different context than the rest of the country.

Finally voters out in the boondocks are putting in their "two cents." Bernie Sanders' strength, his tied result in Iowa with the nominee-presumptive, has unleashed a round of attempts to explain why very ordinary folks might be giving the old socialist a serious look. Here's Ben Casselman at 538:

It’s possible that voters, with memories of the recession still fresh in their minds, simply don’t believe the signs of [economic] progress, or worry they won’t last. But here’s another explanation: Americans are feeling better about the economy right now, but they remain deeply worried about their longer-run prospects — retirement, student debt and, in particular, the ability of their children to find middle-class jobs.

... Those fears are grounded in economic reality. Wages may have rebounded from the recession but they have been largely flat since 2000 after adjusting for inflation. A college degree, long the surest pathway to the middle class, is no longer such a sure bet. And a growing group of influential economists are arguing that the U.S. has entered a prolonged period of slow growth.

A friend told me rather proudly today that her college age daughter had responded to the Iowa results by sending Sanders another small contribution. That generation sees a college degree as both essential to have any future at all -- and nearly impossible to afford. Matthew Yglesias warns the Democratic establishment to take these young people seriously:

Sanders's most significant legacy, win or lose, is going to be what his campaign has shown about the ideological proclivities of younger Americans. Specifically, he showed that the hefty liberal tilt of under-35 voters is not a question of Barack Obama's cool-for-a-politician persona or simply an issue of being repulsed by this or that GOP stance.

But the hearts of America's young people — including, crucially, young women — are with the crotchety 74-year-old socialist from Vermont. This both tends to confirm Washington Democrats' conviction that demographic headwinds are at their back and complicates their hazy sense that faith in demographics is a substitute for political strategy.

The problem is that the young progressives the party is counting on to deliver them to the promised land are, as Sanders has shown, really quite left-wing. They aren't going to be bought off with a stray Snapchat gimmick or two. To retain their loyalty and enthusiasm, party leaders are going to need to offer some kind of theory about how Democrats intend to deliver change and get results.

It won't always be enough to point out that Republicans are racially and socially intolerant old grumps; Dems need a plan to win enough Congressional seats so a progressive economic agenda might be attainable. These young Sanders adherents are a tough crowd: capable of being smart and informed when they pay attention, as well as asking for inspiration. The promise of good defense against Republican threats to their future won't be enough; they are going to want a plausible plan to go on offense.

Jamelle Bouie, usually a skeptic about inspiration in politics, has come around to the view that the youthful adherents to the Sanders campaign are changing our realities.

It’s the Democratic analogue to Reagan’s 1976 primary against Gerald Ford -- a sign of the times and of the future. If Sanders wins ..., then he’ll bring (or drag) the Democratic Party to the left. If he loses, then he’ll represent the largest faction in the party, with the power to hold a President Hillary Clinton accountable and even shape her administration, from appointments and nominations to regulatory policy.

Well maybe. Sanders has to do a lot more than achieve a tie in Iowa. But if this kind of punditry is correct, perhaps a new generation can help this country move beyond a paranoid fear of any policy labelled "leftist" -- a relic of the long Cold War. About time; that's so over, we're living now.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Demographic divisions

I'm not going to blither tonight about the Democratic dead heat and continuing Republican horror show yesterday in Iowa.

Instead, let's look at some findings about the country's demographic and political trends from a dump by Pew Research.
It's a truism that the country is becoming more "brown." That is, we're less monochromatically white, more a land whose people own many racial, ethnic and other identities, Black, Latino, Native, various Asian-origins, and all-mixed-up, as well as white. This is such a departure from both past reality and the image many of us carry of the nation's history, we could hardly miss the sensation that something is changing. But something else is changing as dramatically:

The U.S. is on its way to becoming a majority nonwhite nation, and at the same time, a record share of Americans are going gray.

Census demographers spelled this out in 2012:

There are now more Americans age 65 and older than at any other time in U.S. history. According to a new Census Bureau report, there were 40.3 million people age 65 and older on April 1, 2010, up 5.3 percent from 35 million in 2000 (and just 3.1 million in 1900).

Pew attributes our intense partisan sorting into camps that often barely speak or recognize each other to the convergence of these demographic trends. An older white population whose relative demographic weight is decreasing has clustered in the Republican party, while everyone else -- those both younger and browner -- drifts or runs to the Democratic column.
The right hand column is the important one here. Lots of voters claim to be independent or "non-partisan" but political scientists have found that true independents who are actually open to either political party's blandishments are very rare, less than 5 percent of the electorate. Regardless of what we call ourselves, most of us are partisans, most of the time. And if you look at the right column, every age cohort under 68 leans toward the Democrats. Obviously, not all these people are making themselves heard with their votes; in fact the Democratic ones seem to sit out all but presidential contests. But the trend line is clear here.

If this nation is to be less divided and rancorous, we not only need to speak with one another across cultural and racial chasms, but also across divides of age and experience. We scare each other. In some situations, we have different needs and material interests. But we also share a country and a national future. Many of us have children who will carry on with whatever we leave them. Listening, learning and some compassion are needed.

Monday, February 01, 2016

On the eve of the Iowa caucuses ...

I did something very odd. I decided I should actually watch the unfiltered entirety of one of the Donald's Iowa stump speeches. I didn't doubt that clips and punditry had accurately communicated the famous boor's act, but I thought I'd see for myself. I randomly chose this one, an appearance at the University of Iowa.

Mysteriously, the first thing I learned was that, though the video is 1:30 minutes long, nothing happens, literally, for the first 54 minutes. Apparently someone set up the camera and set it running that early. And apparently the crowd just milled around passively for those 54 minutes. Weird.

Yes, the Donald was the hateful, misogynist racist clown I'd been led to expect. And his audience lapped it up. Some portion of our fellow citizenry like communing with this clod in his pig sty. (Or is that an insult to pigs?) He is also an effective performer, possessed of much sharper timing and delivery than most politicians -- and I've heard lots of them.

The one bit of content I hadn't heard before was that it was his wife's urging that got him into this campaign. Really? Well, from her point of view, that probably beats having him around. I found just plain bizarre his bit about it being somehow Hillary Clinton's fault that Bill couldn't keep his dick in his pants. What fraction of us believe that sort of thing? Mostly just some fraction of older men, I suspect.

And he's a bald faced liar. No surprise there. He trotted about 10 members of the University of Iowa's Rose Bowl football team across the stage, proclaiming the team endorsed him. It will come as no surprise that that they were entirely white, unlike this team picture.
Yet another Trump oddity, this one from the English-language liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

A President Trump Could Be Netanyahu's Worst Nightmare
Because hell hath no fury like a Donald scorned and because his election could dismantle the pro-Israel bloc in Congress.

Hadn't thought about that. Long before he dismantled the pro-Israel bloc, he'd have dismantled this country's self-respect.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Dr. Tweedy shares his discovery that he also matters

I assumed Dr. Damon Tweedy's Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine would be interesting; I didn't expect that it would be gripping and that I'd love it. Yes -- this is a memoir. But it is also an unstinting examination of how the US health non-system works and doesn't, told through an engaging story of personal education and evolution.

Medical school at Duke was unsurprisingly harrowing for Tweedy, a first generation college graduate from an unheralded public university, attending on an affirmative action scholarship. It didn't help his equilibrium when a professor assumed the only reason he could be in the classroom was to repair the light fixtures. Being the brilliant achiever he seems to have been, he aced the class and med school.

Subsequent medical education introduced him to a series of patients and circumstances that illustrate how our medical system fails black patients. There was the black, drug-addicted, young mother whose baby died stillborn -- and for whom there was no possibility of drug or psychological treatment because she lacked insurance. There were the black, rural, clinic patients who could no more afford drugs or obtain treatment for high blood pressure than fly. There were the black, urban, emergency room patients who never saw a doctor until their medical problems overwhelmed their bodies beyond what any doctor could offer them.

Beginning practice as an intern and later a resident, he learned to deal with patients, white and a few black, who didn't "want no nigger doctor."

No matter our successes that led us to medical school or our achievements there, it seemed some segment of the population would never fully recognize us. The insults didn't stop once you became a doctor. ...Nor were these stereotypes restricted to the South. [A researcher of these incidents] concluded that the pervasive nature of the negative race-related experiences leads to "racial fatigue" that contributes to higher rates of job dissatisfaction and greater changes in career trajectory among black physicians. ...

Tweedy recounts the dismissive treatment by senior white doctors of a black patient who insisted that, rather than take a prescribed blood pressure medicine, he'd try weight loss and exercise first. For resisting their authority, the patient left the hospital with a psychiatric diagnosis. He also describes, subtly and gently, occasions when being a black doctor for black patients unleashed patient insecurities that meshed and clashed with his own.

The chapter which completely drew me in is called "Doing the Right Thing." After discussing the many black patients he sees whose accumulated stress, bad diets and cultural conditioning nudge them toward early onset diabetes and heart disease, he discusses in detail his own struggle to maintain a healthy weight, exercise program and blood pressure. He learned from his patients.

Why was making long-term healthy change so difficult?

... it's hard to change patterns formed in childhood, perhaps even more so among blacks. ..."Soul food," especially popular in the South where the largest number of black people reside, tends to contain large amounts of red meat, added fats and salts, and is often deep fried. ... I believe the problem runs deeper than simply the food choices themselves. ... surveys indicated that black people are more accepting of -- and in some cases indicate a preference for -- heavier body types. Skinniness is more likely to be seen as a sign of illness ...

I embraced some of these ideas. Despite being a physician, I still viewed some aspects of healthy living -- eating salads, drinking water, going to a yoga class or jogging on a treadmill -- with disdain. ...I had internalized such behavior as the domain of perfectionist white women who struggled with self-esteem... Given my struggles with assimilation since high school, particularly so since starting medical school, adopting [healthy] habits to any extent over the long haul meant selling out some essential aspect of both my manhood and my racial identity -- even if my rational mind knew such a belief was self-destructive. It was not so much the differences in the food or exercise themselves as what the lifestyle change represented.

[His patient] Henry's progress caused me to rethink my distorted logic. He was a middle-aged, working-class black man with significant mental illness who required long-term use of a fat-promoting antipsychotic medication. In short, he was not the sort of person I would expect to succeed in revamping his lifestyle. Yet he'd been able to do just that ...

Both Henry and Dr. Tweedy had both affirmed that their own Black Lives Matter. I've been awed by watching black friends who've identified with that affirmation become enabled to take care of themselves as part of the struggle to care for all Black lives. This very bourgeois story is Tweedy's contribution. If you have any interest in either the US health non-system and/or the struggles of black doctors within it, this is a good place to broaden your horizons.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday scenes and scenery: Hawaiian birds

All these are from Waikoloa Beach near Kona on the Big Island.

She seems to move with a sense of purpose. Considering she's sharing the road with cars, that's probably smart.

This goose on a golf course however seemed to know it should expect to be protected. It's a nene, the official state bird. In the 50s it had nearly been hunted to extinction, but has been successfully reintroduced.

Some kind of shore bird, also a little out of place on pavement ...

Here's another little yellow fellow, just because I liked him.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The revolution is dead; long live the revolution

General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi whose coup overthrew Egypt's new government

Five years ago this month, with a rush of joy, Egyptians threw out their oppressive military dictator Hosni Mubarak. Just two years ago, some Egyptians were still proclaiming that their revolution could not be repressed, even as the military reasserted its power to overthrow an elected president.

This month, Helmi Al-Asmar asks Did the 25th January Revolution die under torture?

Speaking on a well-known Egyptian television channel sympathetic to the regime (the opposition has no such access to the media any more), [Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist Negad El-Borai] said that the judgement against two national security officers accused of torturing lawyer Kareem Hamdy to death is an example of how judges show “compassion” towards state officials while ordinary citizens face harsh sentences. ... According to El-Borai, the court has sent a message to the torturers within the interior ministry that, basically, they needn’t worry about what they do ...

“Better than nothing” sums up the story of the revolution, which may have died under torture, or may be clinically dead waiting for someone to wake it from its coma, which may take some time. Egypt is back to square one just five years after the revolution. ...

... Information gathered by international human rights organisations shows that the number of those killed due to torture and medical negligence in Egyptian prisons since the coup on 3 July 2013 is much higher than the official figure of 350; in any case, the statistics do not include those who have simply “disappeared” or whose death has not been recognised. The reasons given for death include electric shock, severed body parts, broken bones and the failure of the authorities to provide medical attention. Sometimes it is claimed that the prisoner has “committed suicide”, as happened on Tuesday when a member of the Muslim Brotherhood detained in Abu Hammad Prison was said to have killed himself. The number of those dying under torture has hit a record high, not only in Egypt, but also around the world.

All or most of those who wrote about Egypt’s 25th January Revolution have admitted, in one way or another, that the country is back to square one. It is as if there was no rebellion; as if Egypt did not hear the chants of “We are all Khaled Saeed” in memory of the young man from Alexandria who died after being tortured by the police. At that time, the interior ministry said that he died as a result of swallowing a bag of hashish. This sparked-off the revolution and inspired the rebels. Today, five years later, the Egyptians do not know whose name to use instead of Khaled Saeed, there are so many candidates who have also died under torture.

I am certain, though, in the midst of such darkness, that nations do not die even if their revolutions are in a coma; there will be a sudden awakening. We do not know when, but the reasons for having a revolution in the first place still exist, on top of which there are even more. The people require a revised and intensified revolution which protects them from oppression and being seized and killed under torture.

Perhaps, but when and how do ordinary people live in the meantime?

Far distant observers cannot pretend to really understand the complex politics within other peoples' countries. But we should not allow the US government to get away with funding this repression either. The Obama administration has shoveled military aid to Egypt's usurping generals for more than a year. These deals with devils never end well.

Do either of the aspiring Democratic presidents have anything to say about this? In the Wapo, David Ignatius is applauding Hillary Clinton for encouraging Obama in 2011 to back half-measures while Egyptians demanded that Mubarak had to go. The Prez opted instead to give Mubarak a verbal push. Hillary does label Egypt's current government "an army dictatorship." Her campaign website says nothing that I could find about policy toward that torturing regime. Neither does Bernie's.

Friday cat blogging

Waikoloa seemed to be cat colony paradise. These critters look like they are hunting. Between human cat fanciers and the sparrow population, they probably had easy pickings.

A tired looking old-timer watched from a nearby tree.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Data-driven politics: what is it? what is it good for?

If, like me, you are interested in the nuts and bolts of U.S. political campaigns -- not just ostensible issues but the mechanics -- you'll appreciate a two part interview with Daniel Kreiss of the University of North Carolina issued as a podcast by the geeks at 538.

The discussion left me with lots of thoughts, some of which I'll throw out here.
  • Kreiss dates data-driven politics to the late 1890s when disgust with corruption in elections (think city bosses and patronage) led political reformers to try to aggregate potential voters as individuals who could be persuaded by issues, rather than attracting them with social events, parades and booze. He only mentions in passing that the old "social" regime of boisterous elections created the highest percentage turnout in our history. We may have gotten more serious, but a lively element was drained from democracy with the clean up.
  • The professor describes how William Jennings Bryan built a card file of some 200,000 voters who had written him letters over a 30 year career in politics. In the mid-19th century, hand written letters (snail mail sent by post) were a central medium of campaigns, The reason that there are so many surviving letters from Abraham Lincoln is that he sat in Springfield and wrote literally thousands of notes urging on supporters before and during the 1860 campaign.
  • Kreiss stressed that early and mid-20th century campaigns always worked with some sort of voter file, with lists of names, addresses, party affiliations and sometimes other information. What they didn't have was computers, so upkeep was terribly laborious.
My mother maintained this system of data file cards for the 20th District, 20th Ward Republicans for decades.
  • He pinpoints the 1970s and 80s as eras when parties were relatively weak and voter lists became commodities provided by commercial political vendors. I can testify that these lists were lousy! To mount a campaign, you bought from the best vendor you could find and accepted that huge numbers of people, addresses and phone numbers included on them would be just plain wrong. This was also the era when campaign consultants made TV the center of electioneering -- a very lucrative strategy for them and probably initially effectual.
  • Kreiss credits the research of Donald P. Green (and Alan Gerber and Lisa Garcia Bedolla) with prompting a turn away from TV ads and toward using improved computerized party-maintained databases to facilitate personal contacts with voters in contemporary campaigns. Technology can help target, facilitate, and capture the results of those contacts.
  • He also observes that, for all its growing technical sophistication, much of this painstaking data collection still tends to get lost at the end of each campaign. If the data entry wasn't completed before election day, final contacts get tossed away along with useless door hangers and other paper debris. Nobody is paying to capture this final trove once the votes are cast.
  • I wish Kreiss and the 538 interviewer had talked about the effects of various mail ballot and early voting systems on campaigning. Managing that well is a new campaign frontier.
Kreiss and the 538 people remain agnostic on how much effect all this technology really has on the vote. It's hard to believe it doesn't accomplish something, but there still aren't good quantitative measures of how many votes are won by how much money and how many person hours through data-targeted campaigning.

Mostly these interviews made me feel sympathetic toward Iowans and New Hampshire residents this month. They are not going to be able to turn on any media or answer their phones or respond to a knock at the door without encountering someone from a campaign. Those of us who live in big states with late primaries in which party preferences are set in stone have little idea of how intense primaries in a year like this must feel at ground zero.

A History Of Data In American Politics (Part 1): William Jennings Bryan to Barack Obama ; A History Of Data In American Politics (Part 2): Obama 2008 To The Present
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