Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween is a bigger deal than the election

When you live and work in a big city and don't have children, it is almost possible to be oblivious to Halloween. Almost. But that gap in an urban dweller's acculturation can be quickly cured by a visit to nearby suburbs to walk precincts or otherwise visit where most of the electorate live. Every time I work an election, I rediscover that these things take place right after this semi-holiday and marvel at the creativity and energy many folks unleash.

The Financial Times' resident cultural anthropologist (and derivative decoder) Gillian Tett is apparently living for awhile in the United States and she marvels at our Halloween:

US Halloween spending is projected at $8bn, more than the sum being spent on the 2012 election

Yes, I know that for anyone outside the US, particularly over the age of 12, it might seem peculiar that a pumpkin-focused festival could provoke much interest. And I daresay there are still a few kid-free – or politics-obsessed – people here in the US who have somehow failed to notice the orange buzz.

But for anyone with a family, or who is plugged into a social media network, it is almost impossible to ignore the looming shadow of Halloween. Walk along the streets of New York, and you are regaled with specialist shops selling ghoulish masks and costumes. Hail a cab, and the back seat television screen will proclaim that the city is celebrating Halloween all month. ...

In the US’s postwar years, Halloween was an event primarily focused on children. But in the past two decades it has expanded fast and this year, according to the National Retail Federation, a record 72 per cent of the population will celebrate (up from 69 per cent last year). It will cost Americans $80 per person on average, and total spending is projected at $8bn. Astonishingly, that is more than the sum being spent on the US election (estimated to be some $5.8bn right now). “By the time Halloween rolls around each year, it’s safe to say Americans have already spent two months preparing for one of the fastest-growing and most widely loved holidays of the year,” says Matthew Shay, NRF president. Yes, you read that right: two months.

Like Tett, I had no idea.

But I can share a few recent snapshots from (mostly) the 'burbs where Halloween flourishes:

We don't seem to know whether this is a harvest festival or a remembrance of the dead -- but much of its observance is decidedly cheerful.

The mere display of the orange autumn fruit -- yes, this squash is a fruit -- is mostly too tame, though they can be lovely.

3bones emerge.jpg
Lawns sprout rising skeletons.

4halloween ghost.jpg
Some of our ghosts are ghoulish.

5halloween boo.JPG
Others announce themselves cheerfully.

6happy halloween.jpg
This shot is urban, spotted several weeks ago at dawn. Happy Halloween, wherever you live!.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Come on Californians -- this isn't working …

Or worth the insane cost! From the Wall Street Journal Law Blog today:

A federal appeals court set aside the capital sentence of California’s longest-serving death row inmate on Monday. The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit tracked that of a lower court, which found that a lawyer for Douglas Ray Stankewitz failed to investigate circumstances leading up to the murder of Theresa Greybeal – namely Mr. Stankewitz’s abusive childhood and long history of substance abuse.

Mr. Stankewitz, a Native American, has been on death row in California since 1978, when he was convicted in the kidnapping and murder of Ms. Greybeal. (He was one of the first people sentenced to death after the state reinstated capital punishment in 1978. Thirteen people have been executed since then.)

In a 2-1 decision Monday, the Ninth Circuit upheld a court order that Mr. Stankewitz’s death sentence be vacated unless California officials seek to retry the capital phase of his case within 90 days or resentence him to life without parole.

“We are faced, however, with a situation in which counsel’s failure to investigate and present mitigating evidence cannot be rationalized on any tactical ground,” Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote in the opinion, saying Mr. Stankewitz’s lawyer at the time failed to conduct the “most basic investigation” of his client’s background.

My emphasis. Let's just vote for Prop. 34 and skip the rigamarole.

Romney campaign shows itself clueless

Now I have more insight into why I keep getting these mailers:

All targeting carries the risk of missing the mark, and there are regularly voters whose actual attitudes defy the predictions of statistical models. But regular misfires by Republicans -- which at best only waste resources and at worst mobilize Democrats who might not have voted otherwise, or provoke a backlash among those still persuadable -- illustrate a gap between how the right and left practice politics in the 21st century. Contrary to the wishful intimations of ... Post and Times stories, while the groups on the right could conceivably catch up with Obama and his allies in the scope and funding of their ground-level activities, in terms of sophistication they lag too far behind to catch up in 2012.

Sasha Issenberg

I sure hope this assessment is correct. That I -- a long time registered Democratic dyke in San Francisco -- have been getting Romney fund appeals all year certainly suggests it might be. When you make yourself ignorant of science, as contemporary Republicans have, you are tying your own hands.

Issenberg's article is fascinating if you want to understand how data-rich campaigns work to get out the vote these days. I'm lucky enough to be using some of this stuff in our current campaign. After the election I'll try to summarize what this old time field warrior learned about contemporary possibilities -- and what I think we all still have to learn.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Storms near and far

Two years ago, when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, like so many others I ran out into the crowds, simply enjoying the raucous mood. Last night, there was a whiff of something in the air that warned us off. There were fireworks, horns honking, much shrieking -- but it didn't feel quite right.

The headline in the morning paper (where this picture was published) catches the scene: Delirium, Destruction in SF. I can't say whether the heavy police presence around the corner helped or hurt. But the scene felt wrong.

So we didn't go out -- until we heard loud bangs at the back of the house and on the roof. Somehow a group of young people had climbed over from somewhere, tried to get down in our yard, broken through a fence and back gate. One girl had fallen/leaped from about 16 feet high and landed on her back on the pavement. She was lying there moaning. The others were hurriedly trying to get away or standing over the girl. We tried to keep her down, but her only desire was to have her friends drag her away and eventually they did. Let's hope there were no broken bones or permanent damage from a moment of delirium.

I nailed up the broken gate. Destruction and delirium happens.
Meanwhile the East Coast waits for Hurricane Sandy. Let's hope (government-organized!) preparations preserve life and limb.

Sandy will disrupt the election, though how much we won't know for awhile. But I can testify what it is like to be working on an election through a major earthquake. In 1989 we were in the final stages when the Loma Prieta shake knocked down a section of the Bay Bridge and several freeways, killing 63 people. San Franciscans seemed numb in its aftermath. It took a week to meet individually with all the people working to get out our vote, share experiences, allow ourselves to settle. We forged on, but it was a struggle to overcome inertia -- not what you want in mid-campaign.

We had three weeks. Folks working on East Coast campaigns have only a week. I am thinking especially of the efforts for marriage equality in Maryland and Maine. They almost certainly depend on volunteer energy. Let's hope Sandy doesn't knock these folks off a promising track.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Election Day should be a Big Disruptive Deal

on line to vote.jpg
Does this look like voter suppression?

Phil Keisling, a former Secretary of State for Oregon -- that means he ran the state's electoral apparatus -- thinks he has the answer to raising voter turnout. And he is certain he knows that what impedes voting:

In 48 states, there’s a far more effective voter suppression strategy than requiring photo IDs at the polls. It’s requiring polling places, period.

In 1998, Oregon voters decided to abolish these Norman Rockwell-esque patheons to civic virtue - and force the government to send their ballots directly to them. (Washington switched fully to this system in 2012).

The result? Consistently high - often, the nation’s highest - turn out rates of registered voters. If all 50 states used this system, at least 20 million additional votes could be cast nationwide each two-year election cycle- and perhaps as many as 50 million.

While I don't doubt having the government send a ballot to registered voters increases turnout, especially among people who would probably vote anyway, I wish enthusiasts like Mr. Keisling would acknowledge the weakness implicit in this, called by some political scientists "convenience voting."

First off: note that important word registered. That's where the true voter suppression takes place: citizens are forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops (of smaller or lesser extent depending on the politics of their state and locality) just to get into the registered voting pool. If you are a citizen, you should be able to vote. Period. More on this topic here.

Also, universal vote-by-mail -- and universal vote-from-your-home-computer when it arrives as I am sure it will -- undermines the experience of collective civic participation that is central to democratic citizenship. If voting is something we do alone, whenever we get around to it, how much sense of solidarity do we feel with our community, with all that messy, sometimes fractious, group of folks who make up our democratic polity? Not much.

The era of highest turnout in U.S. history was the latter half of the 19th century when

political machines created grassroots organizations to mobilize their supporters. While much of the folklore about this era focuses on the abuses of voting buying and other corruption, it is instructive to understand that modern political scientists regard these sorts of grassroots organizations as the most effective means by which to get people to vote.

There wasn't any convenience voting in those days: people had to be got to polls on Election Day. The day itself was a Big Disruptive Deal! Some jurisdictions closed the bars; others opened them early. Nobody thought citizenship, doing the voting thing, was a minor inconvenience in what was otherwise a normal work day.

If we were serious about democratic participation, Election Day would be a holiday. We would create civic festivals to celebrate our enthusiasm for our democratic exercise of the franchise. Want a parade? March around on Election Day. We would also implement universal, adult citizen voter registration. We might even imitate the Australians who fine (lightly) people who don't vote (though it is perfectly legal for individuals to secretly spoil their ballots if they don't like the choices.)

Voting shouldn't only be made easier -- it should be made more universal, more collective, more prominent in our lives. (That's not the same as saying we should be more afflicted by campaign ads. After a fairly low bar, those are about how much money campaigns can corral, not about democracy.) When a voting reform is suggested, let's stop looking at whether it can "increase turnout" and look, instead, at whether it aims toward increased civic participation. If it doesn't increase social solidarity -- the awareness we are all part of the same diverse country -- it is not about democratic reform. It is just tinkering at the edges.
Off to another day of getting out the vote for Prop. 34.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Listen to the women!

… if I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar haircut explain to me what rape is, I'm gonna lose my mind. … Tina Fey

Apparently the right wingers are freaking out about this one. I think she's adorable.

Friday cat blogging: Morty endorses

morty endorses.jpg
Morty has finally decided to leave the thinning ranks of undecided voters.

He's had a hard time making up his mind. Both candidates seem to be dog people. Morty doesn't like dogs. He does not easily warm to people who like dogs. Dogs are to be intimidated, or failing that, escaped from and taunted.

However on balance, this one seems to like the animal he lives with. The other one treats its animal like a piece of furniture. Of course furniture doesn't poop, but apparently that fellow didn't anticipate this fact of nature. That's not very smart of him.

Morty would prefer that his humans stop paying attention to either of these guys and get back to their proper role: paying attention to him.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An exclusive club

These guys really do not believe adult women are full human beings. Human life consists of people with their plumbing and zygotes?

One more thing on the San Francisco ballot

I think this is a student journalism project. Yes on G. Via Mission Local.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why the election matters ...

... if they win, we can wave goodbye to not only a woman's right to choose, but quite possibly legal access to hormonal contraceptives as well. If we win, Roe will likely remain in force, but they can continue to constrict access to abortions in many states.

... this election is like a bet that we've got a 2/3 chance of winning, but if we win, the duck comes down and gives us $100, while if we lose, we lose the house, the car, and the retirement fund.

low-tech cyclist

Let's do away with voter registration

registering to vote.jpg
Monday was the last day to register to vote in California. Workers from the local Department of Elections were out during the commute shouting to passersby: "Ready for the election?" Some people evidently weren't ready and stopped to update their paper work.

The whole rigamarole of voter registration is something our democracy could and should do without. A sensible society would issue each citizen a voting card and, more importantly, an individual ID number when the person reached voting age or completed naturalization. The number would stay the same for life. On election day each person could present themselves to any polling place, provide their ID number (probably punching it in, much as we do at ATMs), declare a current address, and be allowed to vote an (electronic) ballot suitable for the jurisdiction of residence. The technical capacity to run elections this way either exists or is not far away. If we wanted an easy, inclusive, voting system, we could have one.

Reforms can bring us closer. It is now possible to register online in California though the old deadlines remained in force this year. Next election we'll join the more civilized states that practice same day voter registration at the polls. Citizens will be able to walk in, declare their address, and vote. The state that brought the nation Silicon Valley is beginning to catch up to the technical possibilities.

Making voting easy is hard to achieve because of the country's historical attachment to localism. The control of elections by each state under its own rules is written into the Constitution, modified only by successive amendments that gave the vote to Blacks and other people of color, women, and everyone at age 18.

Once upon a time, people thought their privacy was preserved because we didn't have national identity cards. But in a world where all our personal quirks float around for all to see on Facebook and Twitter, it's hard to take personal privacy very seriously. Big Brother knows where we are and what we eat for breakfast; we might as well get the advantages as well as the threats to our autonomy.

A welter of jurisdictions and partisan election officials like the obstacle course we currently have. They live inside it. But just because we've always done it one way does not mean we can't find a better way.

Since the dwindling party of angry old white guys -- once known as the GOP -- doesn't like much of the population, they are working to make it harder for the people they don't like to vote. Alec MacGillis reports on the current campaign to steal the state of Ohio for mendacious Mitt. As long as we can't standardize democratic procedures nationally, we'll have to worry about pockets of politically motivated voter suppression. GOP efforts to ensure a whiter and more affluent electorate must motivate yet another voting rights movement. That's our history, a long struggle toward wider inclusion in the democratic body politic.

Will I live to see voter registration become a quaint memory? I think I might. The foundation is there -- let's end the registration barrier to voting!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


If you are in California, there's a good chance you'll see this on TV in the next two weeks. It is playing in the San Francisco and Los Angeles markets.

Yes on 34 is also on radio in Los Angeles and San Diego.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Time to vote! Proposition opinions in profusion

I need to mail in my ballot now, so as to have maximum energy for getting out the vote for Prop. 34. If you are working on a campaign (and if you haven't participated in some way, you are letting other people make decisions for you that you may not like), it's always a good idea to get your own vote into the mail early!

Over recent months working on a California initiative myself, I've had to become more conscious of what the other 10 items are about; people often assume that if you're knowledgable about one measure, you can be a source of information about others. In this welter of propositions, that's probably not true. But here are the choices I've made and why:
  • Prop. 30 - Yes Popularly called "the Governor's tax measure," this one raises revenue from high-income taxpayers and hits all of us with a quarter percent sales tax levy through 2019. We have to pass on it because of the stupid rule that requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature for tax measures -- and the Republicans (the angry white guys' party of tax resisters) still hold one vote more than a third of the seats in Sacramento. If we don't want to have to vote every time the state needs money to keep the doors open, we need to kill the 2/3s rule. Meanwhile, we have to vote for this if the state wants public schools.
  • Prop. 31 - No This is an attempt at structural reform of state budgeting that dodges the real problem: slightly over one third of California's citizens refuse to contribute to the general welfare and have organized as the Republican Party to keep it that way. Various "good government" fidgets won't strike at the root of the problem; they just multiply the hoops in the way of governing.
  • Prop. 32 - NO The same people that don't want to pay taxes for the general welfare want to kill off the few forces that stand in their way, the most organized of which is the labor unions. This lying measure would gut union political power while doing nothing to inhibit corporate spending on elections. It's a con.
  • Prop. 33 - No Cars matter to Californians. Consequently, we've managed to pass some pretty good regulations to make mandated auto insurance rates somewhat fair. The guy who runs Mercury Insurance wants to change the rules so he can make more money by overcharging people who for some reason go without insurance for awhile. Take a temporary assignment for a job in another state -- end up paying through the nose for auto insurance when you come back. Is that fair? Of course not -- just more insurance company gouging.
  • Prop. 34 - YES If you read this blog, you know about that one.
  • Prop. 35 - no Every ballot seems to contain one like this: something that could have been worked out in the normal manner by the legislature but which attracted a rich sponsor fulfilling a pet interest. Nobody wants to be soft on human trafficking -- that means pimping and slave labor -- but this is one of those overblown, ill-drafted, emotionally attractive laws we'll have to back away from someday.
  • Prop. 36 - yes We passed the three strikes law in a moment of panic about repeated dangerous criminal offenders, but we didn't really mean to lock up petty criminals for life. But that's how it has worked out too often; this would require that a third strike conviction be for something violent or otherwise serious.
  • Prop. 37 - yes I wrote this one up here. Big agriculture doesn't like it, but we've got a right to know whether they've been monkeying with the genome for enhanced profits.
  • Prop. 38 - no I find it hard to vote against a tax to be used for the schools. Goodness knows, the schools need the money. But this is the ultimate vanity proposition (see also Prop. 35 above). A rich person decided she knew better than all the political forces in the state and has invested millions in her pet scheme, even though she couldn't sign on the folks who are the most important factor in education: the organized teachers. That smells bad to me, so, unhappily, I've vote no.
  • Prop. 39 - yes This will force companies that do part of their business in California to pay taxes on that part in California. Seems simple, but somehow they've been enjoying a big loophole and Republicans won't let the legislature plug it, so we, the voters, have to.
  • Prop. 40 - yes This affirms the State Senate boundaries we're using in this election -- they were redrawn to conform to one person one vote rules after the census. Some Republicans didn't like the results and put this on the ballot, but then realized it was hopeless and orphaned it. But we still have to vote on it.
Are you tired yet? I am.

This election I'll spare you the local measures, except to urge San Franciscans to vote Yes on A to keep City College alive!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Who's best for empire?

The "foreign policy" debate on Monday night -- this event could more accurately be labelled the "imperial management" debate -- is going to be painful for those of us who think we've had enough wars and that the U.S. should get out of the business of telling people in other countries how they ought to organize themselves. Four years ago most voters were war-weary; we'd spent a decade frittering away lives and treasure for no particular purpose in Iraq and Afghanistan. We picked a president who seemed to understand that better than the other guy, even if he had to pay some homage with the ever-present flag pin on his lapel to imperial rituals.

Without ever breaking verbally from the pattern, Obama has delivered a measure of realism to our international doings. David Sanger spelled out some of the differences:

… Mr. Obama is out of the occupation business. He seemed to take to heart the parting warning of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the Republican who served under the last two presidents. On his way out the door, Mr. Gates said that anyone in his job “who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Obama knows we can't afford unlimited empire; Romney and the Republicans insist enough bluster and accompanying death and destruction in other people's countries will work out just fine. There's a clear lesser evil choice here: no matter how disappointing Obama has been, his administration offers more room for sanity than the alternative.

No doubt Obama has been disappointing. He's developed and deeply embedded among the executive branch's powers the facilities for making war on the cheap: drone attacks on those we define as "enemies" even in other people's countries; unconstrained secret global spying including on our own citizens as part of "security" business as usual; permanent detention without trial for official enemies (see Guantanamo and Bagram); and secret cyberattacks on governments we don't like such as Iran. It's quite a catalogue and we don't know the half -- we're not supposed to know about any of it. When someone lifts the curtain, the leaker can expect to end up locked away: see Bradley Manning. Permanent secret war and its crimes have become the accepted norm under this president.

But mendacious Mitt wants to take us back to the glory years of the U.S. imperium. Sanger memorably calls this "Eisenhower envy." That's probably why he has occasionally blurted out his hostility to Russia -- he's never gotten over thinking the (no longer extant) Soviet Union is our great competitor. Since he can't really be that dumb and he demonstrably feels no obligation to tell the electorate any truths about what he really intends in any arena, I don't imagine we'll learn anything much about what he'd do as President from the "foreign policy" debate.

What's even more distressing than the positions of the candidates is that openness to another war -- an attack on Iran -- seems to be gaining in the electorate:

The most recent NBC/WSJ poll finds that 58 percent of Americans believe the US should initiate military action to destroy Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons if Iran continues its pursuit of nuclear capabilities, compared to 33 percent who would oppose military action. Remarkably, 44 percent strongly support such an action, compared to 23 percent who strongly oppose. Support for military action against Iran has steadily increased throughout the Obama presidency. In 2008, opponents of war outnumbered supporters by 5 points, 41-46. By March 2012, supporters had seized a 12-point lead. Over the last six months, that margin has doubled to 25 points.

Nate Cohn, TNR

We wouldn't like the aftermath if we did it. The military establishment seems to understand this better than the civilians -- not only in the United States, but even in Israel where the impetus for war originates. The institutions that would have to do the dirty deed have learned to recognize a quagmire when offered one.

As long as there is not a durable political consensus among U.S. voters that imperial wars are not worth it -- unaffordable, can't' be "won," and simply wrong -- our politicians will bluff, weave and posture trying to uphold the illusion of world-dominating empire. And our social services, safety net, educational institutions, roads, and lives will continue to deteriorate. But we can't entirely blame the politicians so long as the people continue to thrill to the siren song of empire. It's over, folks. Learn to live with it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Gays out in the world

Charles Blow ponders the meaning of the findings plotted here in the Times. I'm sure the social scientists will come up with some explanation. Older gays of color and mixed race folks seem more willing to name themselves than presumably more economically and socially secure white older gays. He finds this a mystery.


I find it much easier to fathom: as Janis Joplin sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose ..."

Time for a full and fair trial

A Founding Father and architect of some of the Constitution's major compromises agrees:

I should not regret a fair and full trial of the entire abolition of capital punishment.

-- James Madison, To G.F.H. Crockett, November 6, 1823.

Via Charles Pierce.

Busy with the Prop. 34 campaign today.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday cat blogging

Morty tears up.jpg
Mr. Morty was restless last night. Here he looms over my shoulder on the back of an overstuffed chair.

Perhaps he is reacting to the unusual autumn heat in San Francisco which has us cracking the windows open; the tear may be an allergy to the unfamiliar scents of the yard. He tries to stick his head out, but we won't let him.

He spent the night wandering over me and nuzzling my feet. Now he's sound asleep on the bed -- and I'm tired.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Liberal warmongers gulp Kool-Aid

There's more to life than a U.S. election. Really. The headline in the Times today reads Denial Is Slipping Away as War Arrives in Damascus. The Damascus I glimpsed dimly in 2006 is under siege. Even then I knew I was seeing almost nothing of the forces below the bright surface of that proud ancient capital. But I know it was full of people getting by, however they were managing. And today they are in danger and however their lives once worked, their future will be different and most likely not better.

Helena Cobban has been watching Syria for years. She tried to sum up some of what we in the United States don't know in an essay last month.

… I weep for Syria and its people, caught up as they are in the madness of this internal/external war... A war that is horrifyingly similar to the one that I lived through in Lebanon 35 years ago-- and to the one that Iraqis went through in 2006-2007-- and indeed, to some extent until today.

The present war inside Syria was absolutely avoidable. And if the vast majority of the peaceful opposition people from inside the country had had their way, it would have been avoided. But no. The Sunni-ist ideologues of the Syrian diaspora-- many of whom had been living in the Gulf countries since the horrors they escaped in Hama and elsewhere back in 1982-- backed up by their co-ideologues from the governments of Qatar, Saudia Arabia, and sadly also Turkey seemed determined to make this an armed conflict. Washington, which under Obama as under George W. Bush has been fundamentally supportive of "regime change" in Syria, gave them all a green light.

And, most shockingly of all to me, large numbers of people in the "progressive", "human-rights"-oriented movement inside the United States-- including large portion of people who had been in the movement that always opposed the U.S. war in Iraq-- were cheering them all on from the sidelines. ...

By and large, most of these people do not know a lot about Syria and its history. They (like me) had cheered on the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Then, regarding Libya, most of those people cheered on not only the multifaceted popular uprisings there but also the NATO attacks that led to Pres. Qadhafi's collapse. In Libya, the use of external (in that case, western) military force was presented to and by many people on the "left" in the west as not only "necessary" but also a speedy, decisive, and effective way to "save thousands of lives". ...

For the liberal warmongers (who prefer to use the mendacious term "interventionists"-- as though war is the only kind of "intervention" possible!), supporting NATO in Libya was their gateway drug to supporting Saudi and Qatari-instigated acts of violence in Syria. And then they had recourse to all those lying arguments about "no alternative", "only protecting peaceful protesters", etc etc.

What makes me extremely sad is how quickly so many of those people who were at the forefront of the western antiwar movement regarding Iraq seemed to have forgotten what they seemed to know so well in 2002-2003 about the counter-productive and quintessentially anti-humane nature of war. Somewhere along the way they had drunk great gulps of the pro-war Kool-Aid.

After everything that we've seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the whole of the past decade, there are still so many armchair "liberal interventionists" in the United States who think that a salutary little war could be good for Libya's people... or for Syria's???? What on earth are they smoking? And why should anyone anywhere in the world take their views and their analyses seriously?

The whole is worth reading. Cobban is one of the more informed, more principled anti-war activists left. She sees the dying as much as the "policy."

Hey, did you know there is an election going on?

I know nothing about this pugilistic gentleman. There's an incumbent in the district; whoever he is, this guy's chances aren't great. But his poster sure catches the feel of where this long season has brought us these days.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Republicans must think we're morons …

I'm late to this topic because it just seems too stupid to bother with, but apparently Republicans think they discovered a winning complaint in blaming the Prez for falling to bluster properly when a U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. diplomatic staffers were killed in Benghazi several weeks ago.

Governor Romney stubbed his toe on this point in the debate last night.

How dumb do they think we are? When we send people to unstable countries to interact with the people that live there, the job is dangerous. Especially if, as seems to have been the case with Ambassador Stevens, those diplomats are actually capable of talking with and possibly understanding something about the locals. Many Libyans seem to have liked the guy -- and, though Republicans seem to think that's a sign of weakness -- that's a kind of strength that begins to offset some of the enemies our gross imperial pretensions have collected.

Libyans demonstrate after the Benghazi attack.

This dangerous job is why we have diplomats. It can never be a completely safe position -- unless we lock our folks down so they never interact with the locals. And if we do that, we become blinded fools about those other countries -- oh yeah, we did just have a Republican president and staff who were such fools. But ignorance is nothing to aspire to.

Unless maybe you are a Republican...

Warming Wednesdays: Scientists indict Fox and WSJ

I'm a sucker for clever campaigns. This is fun and right to the point: these so-called "news" outfits are lying about climate change in order to line the pockets of the oil and coal oligarchs.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. I will be posting occasional "Warming Wednesdays" -- unpleasant reminders of an inconvenient truth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dixie resurgent

If Mitt Romney wins the popular vote on November 6, here's why:

Gallup had some pretty eye-popping numbers this morning, showing Romney jumping to a five point lead nationwide. But look at this regional breakdown.

  • East - Obama +4
  • Midwest - Obama +4
  • South - Obama -22
  • West - Obama +6

If those numbers hold, those of us lucky enough not to live in the South may become enthusiasts for the electoral college. Maybe.

This does leave one mourning for all the Black, Brown and sane white people who find themselves located in this misbegotten sink hole of bigotry and ignorance.

Security theater at dawn

Remind me not to take a 6:50 am flight on a Monday, if I can help it.

Yesterday I couldn't help it.
For the moment, too busy to blog.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Some "little jokes" can do you in


Tommy Thompson is a former governor of Wisconsin (and one nasty guy) who is running for the Senate this year.

H/t Talking Points Memo for both clips.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

About that presidential polling ...

Sam Wang at Princeton Election Consortium puts his statistically derived picture of where the presidential contest sits into a simple metaphor for a math-challenged questioner:


Imagine a six-gun loaded with five blue cartridges and one red cartridge. The blue ones will pass through you harmlessly. The red one, not. You pick up the gun.

Fade to black.

I'd love to see better odds, but I'm glad Wang is so confident the ones the country is facing aren't worse.

Good campaign eats

When working on a campaign, staffers usually adopt a nearby restaurant as THE main place to go to pick up emergency food when bouncing off the walls.

In this campaign, the winner seems to be a branch of the homogenized pseudo-Mexican chain Chipotle. The food is reliable, it can be spiced to taste, and it is filling. Since we're supporting the place, it was nice to see this from Colorlines:

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers claimed another victory yesterday when Chipotle agree to sign on to the organization’s Fair Food Program. CIW members—who represent some 4,000 Florida tomato pickers—and their allies held a protest outside of Chipotle’s headquarters in Denver this week. They were planning another protest during the restaurant’s popular Cultivate Festival tomorrow—which touts Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” slogan.

After six years of refusing to meet with the CIW, Chipotle becomes the 11th corporation to sign on to the agreement—after Trader Joe’s did the same in February. The Fair Food Program is unique in that it doesn’t demand more pay directly to farmworkers. Instead, it asks that end-use corporations like Chipotle pay a price premium for the tomatoes they purchase for their consumers. In turn, the price premium paid by those food retailers to growers ensures higher wages for farmworkers, and a code of conduct that targets harassment in Florida’s fields.

Fast food chains and supermarkets often argue that industries that rely on ever lower prices simply cannot afford to pay a price premium. They add that since they don’t set wages in the fields, they shouldn’t be pressured to raise the amount of money they pay for their tomatoes.

Yet CIW continues to win victories by reminding growers, corporations, and consumers what farmworkers already know: the food chain’s economy is connected, and once food retailers pay pennies more per pound on one end, workers in the field will feel the difference by earning more pay on their end. Aside from a wage increase, the price premium also ensures rules against child labor and modern-day slavery in Florida’s tomato fields. ...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday scenes and scenery: down the drain

no dumping-SF.jpg
Here's public education at work. Generations raised on Sesame Street may be surprised that we had to be warned not to pour inconvenient liquids into the wastewater system. But it took some effort for cities to get the message across. I remember a time in the 1970s when many of us thought little about dumping used motor oil into these grates. And we certainly know that industrial polluters will still dump if they can make a buck from it.

Hence a public education campaign. Somebody must have got a grant for signs?? The sign above is from San Francisco.

drains to bay.jpg
This rather nice emblem is from Oakland.

And this stencil shows the same motif in Los Angeles.

If we pour our waste into the ocean nowadays, at least we know we're doing something society condemns.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Watch Mitt Romney debate himself

The guy just provides more and more fodder for this ongoing series. Previous installment here.

I can't help feeling that a person who wants to be President should stand for something more than whatever phoney-baloney he thinks will sell to a particular audience. Guess I'm old fashioned.

Friday cat blogging

Sometimes a fellow is just tired. Sometimes a blogger is too, but no rest here until after the election.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

For our right to know what we put in our mouths

You might not have noticed if you get your slant on our state politics here, but there are LOTS (11!) of propositions confronting California voters this November. The one I'm working on, Prop. 34 to replace the death penalty, is not the one that has attracted the most spending. Aside from the one attacking unions' ability to participate in politics (Prop. 32-vote NO!) and a couple of tax measures, the big locus of campaign money, campaign ads, and campaign swag is Prop. 37. A coalition of organic farmers, businesses, and foodies think we ought to have the right to know which of our foods are genetically engineered. Hence we're voting on a labeling law.

Nutrition guru Michael Pollan explains what the hotly contested campaign is really about:

Americans have been eating genetically engineered food for 18 years, and as supporters of the technology are quick to point out, we don’t seem to be dropping like flies. But they miss the point. The fight over labeling G.M. food is not foremost about food safety or environmental harm, legitimate though these questions are. The fight is about the power of Big Food. Monsanto has become the symbol of everything people dislike about industrial agriculture: corporate control of the regulatory process; lack of transparency (for consumers) and lack of choice (for farmers); an intensifying rain of pesticides on ever-expanding monocultures; and the monopolization of seeds, which is to say, of the genetic resources on which all of humanity depends.

Corporate cash is pouring in to defeat the labeling requirement.

Proponents of the measure to label genetically modified food, Proposition 37, have raised $4.4 million, but spent all but $754,000 with a month to go in a campaign against a juggernaut. Opponents have raised $34.3 million and have half -- $17.1 million -- remaining to spend. Agriculture giant Monsanto has poured in $7.2 million to defeat the measure

Mercury News

Dupont, Dow, Pepsi and Coke are also major donors to the "no" side. We're going to be wallowing in TV ads, many misleading at best, against the measure.

A segment of the opposition that is a little less visible than the food corporations is the big grocery interests. Perhaps opposition from Safeway and Lucky supermarkets accounts for the fact that most all the establishment media has jumped in with the NO side: after all, supermarket pitches are some of the few forms of local advertising still available to newspapers.

Prop. 37 started out polling overwhelmingly positively; most of us want the chance to know what we are eating, even if we aren't likely to pay much attention. The ad blitz will try to turn us around.

I'm agnostic on whether genetically engineered food is poisoning us, but I support this proposition. GMOs may not be killing us, but these big food corporations can't be trusted to weigh our well-being against their profits. Hence the need for a labeling law and generally to knock industrial food purveyors down a peg.

These politically opinionated plastic figures live in the windows of a San Francisco store selling organic ice cream.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Prop. 34 explained by The Young Turks

This is too good to hold back on. Nice endorsement!

And popular. It went from 300+ views last night to over 18000 as I post.

A prompt friend sent this along

Early voting by mail has begun in California.
Too busy making it happen to add more today.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

That Pew poll is something else …

No, not the one showing Romney taking a lead over Obama after the debate. That one may, or may not, signal what we're up against for the next while.

I'm grabbed by the new Pew Poll that finds that only a minority of us are Protestant Christians. They report, modestly, that

…the Protestant share of the population has shrunk. In 2007, 53% of adults in Pew Research Center surveys described themselves as Protestants. In surveys conducted in the first half of 2012, fewer than half of American adults say they are Protestant (48%). This marks the first time in Pew Research Center surveys that the Protestant share of the population has dipped significantly below 50%.

I suspect it is the first time in the history of this nation that Protestant Christianity has been anything but numerically dominant -- at least since our Protestant forbears killed off the original inhabitants.

We're actually fairly well adjusted to this development: it is little noted that only the President is Protestant Christian among this year's contenders. Still, those of us whose ancestors arrived over a century ago can only be a little shocked by the rapid change.

Pew highlights its finding that more and more of us are "nones" -- unaffiliated with any religion. Effort was expended to figure out who they are (a growing fraction of all of us, particularly among the younger set) and what they believe. Apparently they are not so hostile to God as to religion(s) and they strike me as having some good values:

They are about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%).

They are nearly one quarter of people who call themselves Democrats.
That graphic shows a nice mix, doesn't it?

Amid all the other forms of diversity blossoming in our society, it would be a mistake not to recognize that religious variety is also increasing mightily. One of the characteristics of our time is that there are few established authorities with credibility and legitimacy across differing groups of citizens. We know and attend to different muses -- or even different Gods. No wonder political civility is so elusive: in addition to clashes of interests, our cosmological formulations diverge and divide.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Why does this President sometimes act like a doormat?

It has been tempting since the President's disappointing debate performance last week to indulge in psychoanalyzing the guy. What is it about Obama that causes him to lapse, periodically, into what seems like passive accommodation when faced with people who are are out to destroy him? (See also the debt ceiling debacle.) I'm suspicious of this prying impulse; obviously we can't really know what is going on with a person so inward who inhabits such a remote bubble of a life. But I'll admit to being intrigued by some of the speculation.

Garance Franke-Ruta produced an empathetic specimen of this genre, suggesting that performing the role of a Commander-in-Chief ordering death and destruction is simply wearing Obama down.

A person of his temperament cannot maintain the same open demeanor when he's dealing with war and death all the time. As, we must recall, Obama has been for years now. If Obama seems shut down, perhaps it is because he has to be to be who he is and do the job he needs to do day in and day out. If his heart didn't seem in it last night, I wonder if it's not in part because the last thing he needs to consider in his work on a day-to-day basis is his heart. It's a long way from being a community organizer, civil-rights lawyer and anti-war state senator to running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that's led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat.

She may have something; the guy certainly seems too reflective to be able to let responsibility for all that carnage just bounce off him.

Harold Meyerson offers an even more interesting hypothesis about why Obama sometimes seems paralyzed:

Obama is the first president forced to confront the large-scale evisceration of the American middle class. Incomes for all but the wealthiest Americans had been stagnating for decades when he took office, but cheap credit had kept the middle class afloat. The year before he took office, however, that credit abruptly dried up. Obama’s challenge has been to get the real economy working again, which he’s tried to do in multiple ways: saving the auto industry, pushing for more investment in infrastructure, improving the quality of schools. But the offshoring and robotization of manufacturing, the rise of contingent employment, and the effective extirpation of unions in the private sector have reduced both the quantity and quality of American jobs. Solving these problems requires conceptualizing and actualizing policies that go well beyond the limits of current American politics.

The president understands all of this. ...

Does he understand all this? Much of what any of us are able to know and observe about our society depends on whether there are others around us who confirm that we are seeing something real. The President is surrounded by advisers and appointees who are in the business of not seeing this, who deal in technical fixes to the economy that attempt to paper over underlying inequities and dangers. He hasn't been at all hospitable to the chorus of economic gurus like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz who point to deep rot in the system. Moreover, nobody the President deals with every day has personal experience with the widespread collapse of economic hope that is the current norm; people who so far have profited from current economic arrangements have escaped into a different world from ordinary folk. Smarts can only take him so far into that reality.

If the 99 percent want a President who notices and remains conscious that our economic system has stopped working, we have to create our own understanding of what's wrong and ensure that our voices pervade what passes for debate. Most of our politicians have very little incentive to confront systemic economic failure, national and international inequity and violence, and our destruction of the planet's balance. The world, as it is, works for them. Leaders smart enough and generous enough to confront ugly realities will not be able to move in better directions unless they are surrounded by an aroused people who intelligently demand new directions. We aren't there, though of necessity, we're working on it.

Until then, Obama with his periodic brain freezes is about as good as we're going to get and we need to keep him in office for another term.

Sunday, October 07, 2012


Prop. 34, the initiative to replace California's death penalty with sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole, has gotten lots of sympathetic media coverage. Why today, the campaign was the subject of a sympathetic Wall Street Journal story. And almost all the major California newspapers have joined the call for a "YES" vote.

But no question, one of my favorite endorsements has been the one we got this week from the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Here's a taste:

You want to know about the effectiveness of the death penalty in California? Try this: the number one cause of death among condemned inmates on death row is old age.

Then try this: The cost of implementing the death penalty since it was restored in California in 1978 exceeds $4 billion — about $308 million for each of the 13 people the state has killed.

So: California could hire 5,000 more teachers for every inmate strapped into a gurney and pumped full of lethal drugs. Sound like a bargain?

...This is a big deal; it's a reason to go to the polls even if you're disenchanted by Obama and unhappy with your local candidates. If California rolls back the death penalty, the rest of the country may start to follow.

If you still believe the death penalty deters crime, never mind: Go ahead and defy all of the evidence and vote against Prop. 34. If you're a member of the reality-based community, please: Round up your friends, your family, your neighbors and vote yes on 34.

Now there's a tone I can get behind.

The Guardian has long been known for its exhaustive and feisty endorsements. We have an awful lot of elections and propositions in California and they've always done their opinionated best to explicate all of them. This year the irascible (and tyrannical if you wanted a union) newsweekly founder Bruce Brugmann sold to the Examiner. I had feared they'd be moderating their endorsements -- but this election cycle, definitely not.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Debates, debates, they just keep on debating ...

Can you believe anything this guy says? He always projects such conviction -- even when he has just repudiated what he just said.

Saturday scenes and scenery: urban optimism

don't let dog pee.jpg
I wonder how long it will be before that earnest hope is washed away?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Friday cat blogging

Morty atop door frame.jpg
Sometimes I don't know about Morty. He's curious ... really curious. Here he has managed to leap to the top of a wood swinging door and is apparently trying to squeeze under the top frame to explore high shelves in the next room.

No, it didn't work. Even a magic gray cat can't ooze through such a contorted maneuver. But he had to try and there I was with that camera again.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Debate impressions

I guess the Prez thought his peeps were getting too comfortable. It had begun to look as if he'd wipe the floor with Mitt in November. The voters who can make the difference, especially Latinos and young folks (often the same people) wouldn't feel they needed to show up. That would let the old white guy party crawl back into the race. Couldn't let that happen …

Oh -- and Republican money might have been ready to flee to Senate and House races where they had better chances than with Mitt.

Well -- with the President's dampening performance last night that delusion is over. Democrats and friends were reminded this will be a fight. We were also reminded of the times -- such as during the debt negotiations debacle -- when the President mysteriously goes into his impression of a doormat. This is a fault in an otherwise good guy.

But he's what we have between us and the oligarchs. Not all we would want, but the best we've been able to push out there at the moment.

Back to work.

Somebody has to get the job done

These folks pick up Mitt's garbage.

Joan is a City of San Diego sanitation worker whose route included Mitt Romney's $12 million oceanfront villa in La Jolla, Calif.

Richard is a City of San Diego sanitation worker whose route includes Mitt Romney's $12 million oceanfront villa in La Jolla, Calif. This is his story.

I'm enroute to San Diego today, so these seemed appropriate.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Getting better all the time

A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal finds

Americans are feeling better about the economy -- 57 percent of registered voters said the nation is recovering while 39 percent said it was not.

Our local fish wrap agrees.

economic exuberance.jpg
Since national unemployment is stalled at over 8 percent (and over 10 percent in California), our apparent feeling of enhanced well-being is a little hard to fathom.

Can it be simply that the specter of a possible Republican re-assumption of the presidency is receding? The decline of the Mittster is heartening ...

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Where's the justice?

Lorrain Taylor's sons were murdered. She knows what she wants, what would deliver as much justice as she can imagine after such a terrible loss.

On November 6, Prop. 34. offers Californians a chance to think again about how to deliver more justice to everyone.

The question -- Where's the justice? -- only looks simple until you drill into it. Then its ramifications may come to seem infinitely intricate.

Perhaps all we can know is that we're better off when we make certain we cannot make an irrevocable mistake.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The emerging Latino voting bloc: up from deep foundations

Over the weekend the New York Times took up a theme that I have mused upon: how the emerging Latino electorate is changing New Mexico. There were some important observations:

New Mexico Democrats are intensifying their efforts to increase Hispanic voter turnout, a perennial quest here and across the country for a rapidly growing ethnic group that tends to vote in significantly lower percentages than other groups. The results are being closely watched by national party leaders. The theory is that, with the Hispanic population growing in many states, the way New Mexico looks today is the way many states will look in elections down the road.

… When the Obama campaign first planted a flag here five years ago, the landscape presented both challenge and opportunity. Outreach strategies of proven value in other states — like Spanish-language advertising, or even the notion of advertising in the Spanish-language news media — seemed to have minimal impact on New Mexico’s Hispanics, who are more likely to speak English.

Voter-registration efforts were not as crucial; Hispanics, who are 47 percent of the state’s population, make up nearly 40 percent of its electorate, the highest rate in the country. Get-out-the-vote efforts could not be discarded, but had to be tweaked: Hispanics still lagged in participation, but had deep political roots, influence and familiarity with the electoral process.

“We’re well beyond the ‘we’re happy to be here’ stage, well beyond ‘Sí se puede,’ ” Hector Balderas, the state auditor and a Democrat, said over a breakfast of beans and scrambled eggs in Albuquerque, referring to the Latino rallying cry “Yes, we can” during immigration law protests.

Folks in New Mexico might debate that assurance, but it is certainly true that many Latinos across the country are moving beyond being satisfied by a few token gestures to their language and customs from politicians who are never to be seen except in election season.
On Saturday I had the privilege of attending a celebration of the history of one of Latino organizations that got the ball rolling on moving communities into the political arena. The Community Service Organization was founded in 1947 in San Jose; this grassroots project worked to "empower a generation of Mexican-Americans and change the course of history for their children." It laid the ground work for both the emergence of the United Farm Workers labor organization in the 1960s as well as the Chicano movement.

… thousands of men and women … learned to hold house meetings, conduct voter registration drives, protest police brutality, and bring evening citizenship classes to neighborhood schools.

When I train community organizations about empowering their constituencies through becoming involved in voting, I stress something I think of as the "one election in three principle."

It works this way: most people are not political junkies. They participate in the work of elections -- phoning, canvassing, talking with strangers -- reluctantly, only when they feel vitally moved to do so. They'd rather not do politics, but they will if they feel their lives depend on it. It is too much to ask to keep people in a hyped-up state that drives them to electoral participation all the time. A community demonstrates broad-based electoral power when each of its members need only work hard on something like one in three elections, because such a broad swath of people have acquired, though experience, an understanding that they can and must work on some elections.

CSO was doing this work in California barrios throughout the decade of the 1950s and into the '60s. That generation of leaders, despite openly racist opposition, did the hard work of mobilizing the communities to take up the cudgels offered by democracy. Today's Latino leaders -- such people as Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, the Sanchez sisters in the U.S. Congress and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis -- won their prominence on the foundation laid by the hard community organizing of an earlier generation. That's usually how it works.
The CSO's first President Herman Gallegos with current students at National Hispanic University on Saturday.
It was pleasant to spend a day with people so intent on passing hard earned experience on to new generation …