Monday, October 31, 2016

On hating Hillary

Can "the left" please get clear on what we have against Hillary Clinton? It probably doesn't matter -- as "the left" we're pretty puny. But as objects among the targets of the right wing noise machine, sometimes articulate ones, we might matter a little during the coming Clinton presidency.

So it wouldn't hurt to do a practice run by deconstructing our reaction to James Comey's vacuous disclosure of something indistinct about emails involving Anthny Weiner, Huma Abedin, and the prospective president. It seems to have come about because an FBI director knew the wingers in his department would blow it open if he didn't speak up and then Republicans would beat up on him. Comey's a self-seeking coward apparently. This is significant to us? Really now!

Substantively, it's hard to imagine we, "the left," give a shit. I mean come on, this axis is just tabloid gossip fodder (consensual fodder, unlike Mr. Trump's sexual assaults on women within his reach).

And we have no need to jump in with the media firestorm. In any Hillary Clinton media pile on, we can be tempted to participate -- hey, we the ignored get to spend a few minutes on the side of the noise machine. How satisfying ... and the right will offer endless opportunities during a Clinton presidency.

That's more bullshit. Unlike the right, we don't hate Hillary Clinton for being an uppity woman whose life has been about desacralizing the works of that loathsome old huckster Ronald Reagan. (Good oped by Susan Faludi on this point.)

We don't hate Hillary Clinton because she is "crooked." Like most all people who enjoy privilege at whatever level, she is almost certainly guilty of bending and warping the rules for her personal and family benefit. (Not of course on the scale of Mr. Trump, but that goes without saying.) In this, she's just normal in a society in which we're taught it is every person for themselves. Law constrains most people at least somewhat, including Clintons. We think it should constrain everyone equally, don't we?

Unlike the right, we don't hate Clinton for her domestic policies. She could always be better. But if she has her druthers (likely she won't) she'd implement measures that materially benefit poor women of all races and ethnicities. That should matter. And, perhaps even more than Mr. Obama whose own race has forced him to keep his head down, she'll be open to pressure from communities of color on justice issues because these communities will have elected her. She needs to defend immigrants in any way she can within the law. That's not a reason to hate her.

A wiser left would largely avoid hating politicians at all. They do what they do in response to incentives we should seek to understand - and to influence. Some of them may seem congenial human beings and many do not, but that is just how it is.

We will be properly and intensely critical of Clinton because 1) unless constrained, she'll bend toward the interests of financiers and corporations that gouge ordinary people and 2) she's historically a war hawk, inclined toward military adventures in the face of increasing imperial impotence. "Jail the bankers!" and "No more wars" are slogans for "the left." "Crooked Hillary" and "Jail the bitch" are the calls of people who are as much our enemies as Clinton's enemies.

Let's try to remember that, lest a Hillary Clinton presidency confuse we, "the left," about who we are.

So we don't have to hate Hillary. Spewing Clinton-hate is the right's tactic. And we certainly don't have to adopt right wing memes as we respond to another President Clinton.

War, war and more war

Here's a succinct, superb video showing where in the world the United States is currently bombing human beings, extra-constitutionally, and for murky purposes.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Mohamedou Slahi has been released from Guantanamo

The ACLU provides this video. After more than a decade of captivity, Slahi explains:

Forgiveness is my inexhaustible resource ...

For more on this remarkable man's imprisonment, torture, and moral fortitude, read his amazing Guantanamo Diary.

A woman who wanted it all, despite knowing the terror

I've always had an eager interest in women who traveled in or reported from the places where history is obviously (usually violently) happening. I've written here about reporting from the wars of the '00s by some of these women, including Anne Garrels, Carlotta Gall, and Sarah Chayes. You see, I'm envious. I came up at time when it simply would have taken more audacity than I possessed (as well as probably a heterosexual orientation) to pursue the paths these people followed into danger zones. How did they manage to do something as unattached women that I couldn't even imagine?

Lynsey Addario sets out to answer that very question in It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War. I knew Addario's photographs from the New York Times and followed the drama of her capture and release by Qaddafi-supporters in Libya. How did she come to be in that terribly exposed -- for the photographers utterly beautiful -- place? Wasn't she afraid she'd be raped? Was she raped? (No, mauled.)

It's all here as well as the rest of the story of a (still youngish) life driven by something like a calling to create irresistible images of some of the planet's most violent horrors. She's not political, except being consistently on the side of her human subjects. That's enough to make her an instinctive critic of U.S. military enthusiasms, even as she sympathizes with U.S. soldiers caught up in the horror.

Addario, more or less by accident, traveled as a freelance photographer in Afghanistan when the Taliban still ruled in 2000. She struggled to navigate that culture.
The freedom, independence, and sexuality that I, as an American woman, held at the core of my being completely contradicted the Afghan way of life under the Taliban. I knew I had to shed my own views in order to work successfully here.

...From the start of my journey, I struggled with how to skirt the Taliban photography ban: images burned my eyes and my soul, but I was too nervous about the consequences to dare to sneak a picture as I looked out the car window ... I had to remind myself not to look men in the eye. There were so many rules and restrictions, especially against photographing women.
But she persisted, negotiated, and cajoled, shooting a portfolio of images -- and returned to India to discover that, in those pre-9/11 days, big media had little interest in photos from Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, that changed when the U.S. invaded in 2001. Addario rushed from New York to Pakistan, through an anti-American Peshawar and a hostile Quetta, and on to Kandahar soon after the Taliban were forced out. Everywhere she used her access as a woman photojournalist to shoot the pictures of women that a homosocial society denied to men, while also capturing male street life.

When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney took the U.S. into Iraq, Addario came in through Kurdistan. It didn't take her any time at all to understand that something was very wrong. Though moved to weeping by the sight of Iraqis digging up mass graves of Saddam Hussein's victims, their kin, she immediately
... suspected that the American government was lying to us ... In the months after Saddam was deposed, Iraq fell apart. ... Nothing made sense. American troops allowed the looting of the National Museum but protected the caged lions at the house of Saddam's son Uday. To the media, the troops proudly displayed the Hussein brothers' sex dens ... while basic services like water, gas, and electricity failed to materialize. The superpower couldn't provide for a basic quality of life. ...
As the Iraqis recoiled from the U.S. troops, the troops took their mystification out on journalists -- even a short woman who by this time could identify herself as from the New York Times.
"Get the fuck out of here, you fucking bitch," he said again. ... The other soldiers still had their guns pointed at me. ... Americans wanted to bring democracy to Iraq, but a convenient form of democracy that allowed them to censor the media ...

.... something had changed in me after those months in Iraq. I was now a photojournalist willing to die for stories that had the potential to educate people. I wanted to make people think, to open their minds, to give them a full picture of what was happening in Iraq ...
Newly dedicated to stories of suffering and survival, Addario went on from Iraq to Sudan and the Congo, to Afghanistan again (this time embedded with an embattled U.S. platoon), and then to Libya. Her adventures are no less enthralling, but the theme shifts to her efforts to form an enduring relationship (she did, marrying fellow journalist Paul de Bendern), to mother a child of her own, and to continue to win conflict assignments while living a life somewhat more within conventional expectations for women. She wanted it all, and pretty much got it. She was not about to allow her new conformity to keep her from her work, risking travel in Libya, Mogadishu, and even Gaza under siege while pregnant with her son.

Wonder of wonders, Penguin Press printed this mostly text book on high quality paper which means the sprinkling of Addario's images appear more cleanly than one ever sees in a newspaper.

This is a heartening, even inspiring, auto-biography. Enjoy and marvel.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Getting nippy around here

Often, distraction is required. EP and Morty have found it.

Hey -- we've known this in Cali since 1994

Paul Waldman reports the obvious about this election year.

The “Emerging Democratic Majority” is coming to pass. Back in 2002, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira wrote a book of that name, arguing that a new progressive coalition was poised to become the American majority. “Today’s Democrats,” they wrote, “are the party of the transition from urban industrialism to a new postindustrial metropolitan order in which men and women play equal roles and in which white America is supplanted by multiracial, multiethnic America.” The book was embraced by liberals and mocked by conservatives, particularly after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004. But it has become clear that the Democratic coalition is not only the majority right now, it will become an even larger majority in the future.

Nobody embodies that emerging Democratic majority more than Barack Obama, the multiracial cosmopolitan urbanite who assembled the “Obama coalition” Clinton so desperately wants to keep intact. So she’ll take any opportunity she can to associate herself with him, especially since instead of nominating someone who might pull some of those voters over to their side, Republicans chose a candidate who would only exacerbate their disadvantage and narrow their appeal.

It continues to frustrate me that pundits and the rest of the country don't realize that this story played out in my state, coming to fruition -- without an Obama -- during the '00s. For more, see this, or this, or this.

Yeah, we're a little off kilter sometimes, but we're also showing there is a future for a new (North) American dream. Get used to it.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Donald Trump gender bending

Erudite Partner and I were talking about this interesting article this morning and realized it raised all sorts of speculative possibilities.

Donald Trump Talks Like a Woman
... The chest-pounding real estate mogul from New York has emerged as the quintessentially masculine candidate. Love him or loathe him, Trump’s campaign has been defined by the ways he has asserted his maleness—mocking his opponents for their low energy, bullying his critics, sneering at perceived weakness, boasting of his sexual prowess, vowing to hit back twice as hard as he’s been hit.

But academic research has picked up something that thousands of hours of campaign punditry has missed completely: Donald Trump talks like a woman. He might be preoccupied with grading women’s looks, penis size and “locker room talk,” but the way he speaks and the actual words he uses make for a distinctly feminine style. In fact, his speaking style is more feminine by far than any other candidate in the 2016 cycle ...


Julie Sedivy's thesis is provocative and she's seems onto something here. But, good old fashioned feminist dykes that we are, we found ourselves wondering whether Trump's speaking style might reveal further insights into his relationship to gender, that malleable and someimes uncomfortable construct within which we all navigate our lives.
  • Does Trump come across as such an inauthentic sleaze because we feel the contradiction between his masculine presentation and his feminine speaking pattern?
  • Is his comic book masculinity actually a cover for gender insecurity?
  • Does his childish attraction to women who display Barbie doll femininity derive from inability to deal with more adult experience of gender?
  • Oh gosh, is Trump -- hidden even from himself in the deep recesses of his psyche -- actually gay?
Inquiring minds don't actually want to know. But his guy is so out there, one ends up asking.

Friday cat blogging

Morty has decided my padded desk chair is where he wants to take his afternoon nap. He does not wish to be disturbed.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Election looking good in Nevada

By now, I feel confident that any identified Cortez-Masto (Senate) and Clinton voter who lives behind one of those dots on this map of a Reno neighborhood has turned out to vote. The only way to get rid of the canvass team I was part of last week will have been to get it done with.

And there is hard evidence that the push in the Silver State is working. Michael P. McDonald, who is rounding up reports on early voting at the HuffPo, has this:


In-person early voting began on Saturday, and like North Carolina, the volume of voting increased dramatically. As I write this on Sunday, data are available only for Clark (Las Vegas) and Washoe (Reno) counties [where the vast majority of Nevadans live]. These are the two most Democratic counties of the state. Not surprisingly, Democrats lead all early votes in these two counties. With 68,927 early votes cast, registered Democrats lead Republicans 50.3 percent to 31.5 percent. (Nevada will begin reporting statewide numbers this week.)

Looking at the party registration numbers, Jon Ralston reports registered Democrats are voting above their voter registration levels, up 12 points in Clark and 11 points in Washoe. Republicans are running below their voter registration levels, down 2 points in Clark and 1 point in Washoe. Ralston was careful to document how Republicans outperformed in 2014, so Trump supporters should take heed when he says, “Democrats destroyed Republicans in the first day of early voting in Nevada.” There is nothing in these early voting numbers that contradict recent polling showing Clinton taking a lead in the state.

Congrats to the GOTV teams!
In general, early voting is looking good for a Democratic Senate majority according to the Cook Political Report, the most granular of sites that try to forecast election results.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Choices, often false

Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese mulls our social circumstances at at the National Catholic Reporter: Churches and political parties are in the same pickle. He draws a parallel:

... the percent of people who do not identify with a political party has been increasing just as the percent of people who do not identify with a religion are increasing. This is bad news for both political parties and churches.

... The reasons people abandon organized religion and political parties are similar.

  • The institution is not fulfilling their needs. Both parties and churches are not serving the felt needs of many people, especially the young.
  • They do not believe in its platform (teachings). Parties and churches are speaking to activists and elites, not to real people.
  • They are disillusioned with the institution's leadership. Political and religious leaders have been caught in lies and cover-ups. Too many have been caught in sexual and financial impropriety. They do not believe in transparency. They use their positions for their own advancement rather than in service to their people. ...
In short, people feel betrayed and abandoned by the institution, and their response is to abandon the institution whether it is a party or a church.

This seems a neat comparison. But is it accurate? The more I chew on it, the less I think the parallel works.

The U.S. society in which we live is above all else an individualistic consumer society. Most of the time, we're bombarded by any number of commercial interests which teach that our greatest freedom is to make choices. This usually amounts to buying one thing or another that we may or may not need. And if we're lucky enough to be able to be in the game -- to choose the latest thing we want -- we can feel pretty good about the world.

Churches and political parties belong to different orders in our lives.

Once upon a time -- nearly all of human history -- God was not a choice. Getting right with God (however conceived) was a necessity and that usually happened by being in relationship with God's institutional manifestation, in whatever form this dominated in a particular society. Some combination of science and ethical formation within individualistic and consumerist culture has made God merely optional, a choice among many, in our society. The "nones" opt out because they can. They are no less acting conventionally than those of us who opt in. (We who opt in usually think God is not a choice, but that is another topic.)

The state, on the other hand, is not optional.

If we are comfortable with how our world is working, we can think the state doesn't matter to us. This is nonsense; the only way I can tease it out is that some of us think the state is working for us. The state sets the parameters of our lives, whether through regulating what and how we can possess what we "own," through organizing the systems that make living together possible like transport and schools, and by empowering police and armies with the power of life and death. Getting off the grid, or out of the realm of the state, is fantasy.

By accident of birth, we live in a quasi-democratic polity in which citizens have some levers with which to influence, even control, the activity of the state. We are citizens, not objects to be moved around. This is unusual in human history, as unusual as the notion that God is a choice. But it has considerable reality, however remote that may feel.

Political parties are among, but not the entirety, of how citizens can corral the state to our benefit and purposes. Identifying with parties is optional. Being a citizen, and hence an actor or potential actor in how our society shapes itself, is not optional.

Taking seriously the difference between how God-choice and citizenship-choice work in our world easily explains one of jarring paradoxes of this election season -- evangelical Christian attachment to that anti-moral monster, the Orange blob. Evangelical leaders have absorbed the reality that, in their society, citizenship trumps all. (Damn that man for polluting a useful metaphor.) As Robert Putnam and David Campbell concluded in American Grace,

When religion and politics were initially inconsistent, religious commitment, not political commitment, was more likely to change.

It's the (North) American way.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Honorable man down

Tom Hayden, who died Sunday, did with his life what I often fault members of my activist generation for failing to do. Instead of flailing at the margins, or launching off into leftist flights of fantasy, he dove into the real politics of power in California and tried to implement what he could of what his values demanded. The results were frustrating and imperfect; that's politics. Meanwhile he continued to try to express and explain values that sometimes took him away from the mainstream, consistantly opposing U.S. military adventures. Leftists often found him as frustrating as did the right; as recently as last spring he announced in the Nation magazine that his long-held commitment to empowering the African American community required him to endorse Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Many who remembered him howled.

There was a complicated integrity in Hayden's life. May we all do so well.

The other voter suppression scandal

Today is the last day to register to vote on November 8 in California. In many states, the registration deadline has already passed.

Quite properly, Democrats have been fighting efforts by Republican state legislatures to reduce the opportunities for people of color and young people to exercise their right to vote by means of restrictive voter ID requirements and other bureaucratic impediments. They've had some successes, notably in North Carolina where a court ruled that the state's new voting law was designed with "almost surgical precision" to reduce African-American voting. That law is on hold this year.

But the additional travesty embedded in most states' election administration is the requirement for voter registration well before election day.

Somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of eligible citizens can't vote because they are not registered. Did they want to be registered? Who knows? Do they even know? Some may, but when you're off the socially approved track, the glib answer to why you never got into the game is that you didn't want to play. If you later decide you want in, you shouldn't be kept out for no rational reason.

Registration might have made some sense when records were laboriously kept on paper -- though not much sense. Your address does determine which local candidates you can vote on, so it makes it easier for the people running the election if they know in advance how many ballots of what kind they need. But that shouldn't be a terrible hurdle in the age of electronic voting.

In the era of big data, voter registration requirements are anachronisms. In general, the states know who we are and where we live. There are outliers, but not many. Registrars could manage to run elections without knowing how many ballot papers to print.

And ten states do offer same day registration at the polls: Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming. Washington, DC is also a "same day" jurisdiction. The specific procedures differ; some sort of ID or verification is usually required, but the point is to make participation easy. California will join the same day registration states -- next year. Nothing terrible has happened in states without advance registration; a few places have done without it since the 1970s.

Demos describes what implementing same day registration accomplishes.

[SDR] Assists geographically mobile, lower-income citizens, young voters and voters of color. Keeping voter registration records current is a big challenge under current systems, which place the onus of updating records on the individual. Census data show that over 36 million people in America moved between 2011 and 2012, and nearly half of those moving had low-incomes. Young adults of all income levels also move more frequently—for school, for jobs, for family. Same Day Registration offers those who have recently moved but failed to update registration records another opportunity to register and vote. Research indicates that allowing young people to register to vote on Election Day could increase youth turnout in presidential elections by as much as 14 percentage points.

Experience suggests that more people vote when we make it easier and less intimidating. (Duh!)
Same day registration is a reform worth fighting for.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Election season in San Francisco

Erudite Partner joined some of her students in canvassing against our latest Hate the Homeless ballot measures with Tenderloin Votes yesterday.

This is California's drought

Encountered in a bathroom stall at a conscientious community center.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

On the campaign trail in Nevada

Melvin and I just spent several days together knocking on doors in Reno and Sparks, looking for voters supporting Hillary Clinton and Democratic Senate candidate Catherine Cortez-Masto. UniteHERE/Culinary Workers Local 226 has been hard at work here for months; Melvin started right after Labor Day. This is not new for Melvin. His mother brought him along as a teenager on a canvass in 2012. That year, he joined the team for the last three weeks, decided he could do more with his life than join the Marines, and ended up in community college. Now he is a seasoned pro, charming and cajoling voters with gusto.

Nevadans know their votes are important. They've been bombarded by TV ads for months. Their phones ring constantly. One of the inducements we had to offer to people we with talked with was that, if they used the early voting opportunity that begins today, they'll stop hearing from us.

Some unscientific observations:
  • Because Nevadans are so used to this attention from campaigns, and seemingly a little flattered by it, they open their doors more readily than in other places where I've done this work.
  • Because of this willingness, and perhaps also because I've turned into a white-haired old person, voters seemed far less afraid of me when I knock than I've become inured to. Another older woman had the same observation.
  • I encountered a gratifying number of gay households. I don't expect that in a place that feels to me "suburban." Silly me.
  • A small, but significant, number of the voters I encountered had met/seen Cortez-Masto. Las Vegas is the overwhelming center of population in the state, but government is in the north where Reno is the big place, so a woman who has been state attorney general for a decade is a known quantity.
  • Whenever I met someone who was undecided about choice for president, I asked that person to give me a reason they would vote for Trump. Nobody came up with one.
Current polls show Clinton pulling ahead in Nevada and Cortez-Masto pulling into a tiny lead. She's getting the help of the kind of ground get-out-the-vote operation I joined up with all over the state; that can pull a candidate through. Should Cortez-Masto win, she'll be the first Latina elected to the Senate.
I've had fun in the past making sociological observations about the food provided by campaigns. UniteHERE broke the pattern with this breakfast offering, though the inevitable pizza turned up the next day. But no donuts!
Reno is a bearable size small city surrounded by stark desert and mountains. This was the view out my window.

The casinos are as ludicrous as might be expected. But Circus Circus was cheap and efficient. And what's not to like about a hotel that lines its corridors with pictures of staff like this one? It is also the sole union hotel in town.
This local Libertarian gets the prize for the best sign I walked by. Doubt if he'll get many votes, but everyone needs a laugh in this season. Only 17 days to go ...

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bonus cat blogging

I treated myself just now to a run along the Bay shoreline in San Mateo County and this was what I encountered:

Neither of these critters were shy. I assume they are clients of the Homeless Cat Network:

Friday cat blogging

Imagine seeing this when you open your eyes in the morning. Many times, Morty is right there on the pillow next to our faces.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Media consumption diet for this election year

Friends have asked me what I read to keep informed during this awful election. I read too much for my peace of mind, I think.

But since I've posted on this topic before, I do notice I've changed my sources somewhat.

For a long time, I've paid for and read the New York Times. I also regularly read the Guardian; it has done terrific work recording the hundreds of killings by U.S. police departments. And this election season, the Washington Post successfully lured me to pay up for its coverage. For months, it seemed to be doing the most thorough job of digging into Donald Trump's many shady enterprises. David Fahrenthold has been THE essential source of Trump revelations. The Wapo columnists are interesting, especially Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman at The Plum Line.

Several individual reporters/pundits have provided exceptional coverage and insight. Farai Chideya has offered profiles of subsegments of the electorate. Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent at Slate provides historically grounded commentary from an African American perspective. And Rebecca Traister at New York has succeeded in describing consistently and thoughtfully how woman hatred plays out in this contest.

Two newer journalism sites have often outpaced the legacy news media organizations, carving out niches that begged to be filled. I sure hope Vox thrives. There's amazing journalism coming from Ezra Klein's baby. And I find Talking Points Memo essential, not so much for their click bait outrage snippets, as for Joshua Marshall's historians perspective on the circus.

But probably the most important shift in my media consumption diet has been the addition of numerous podcasts. This has to do with being retired from the paid fray. I'm running and walking and photographing with delight. And at the same time I'm listening. Often this means audiobooks, but for the last six months it has frequently meant podcasts. The Vox guys (and Sarah Kliff) contribute The Ezra Klein Show and The Weeds. These provide interesting, thoughtful, background on just about anything in the news. I don't always (often?) agree with all expressed here, but that is what makes these productions interesting. Another podcast I value a lot is Code Switch: a conversation about race and identity. Finally I should mention one election focussed production, The United States of Anxiety, a series well worth listening to which digs into race and class dynamics as this season reveals them in suburban Long Island. It is terrific journalism. The first three of these I'll still be listening to after November 8.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On claiming our victories along the way

I'm in Reno this week, knocking on doors with members of the Culinary Workers of Nevada (UNITE-HERE) trying to push out the vote for Catherine Cortez-Masto. Cortez-Masto would be the first Latina in the Senate, nothing to sneeze at. Yes, this will help win Nevada for Hillary Clinton too.

So this seems a good moment to share Erudite Partner's latest TomDispatch article: Why Fighting for Justice Is Like Surfing.

... How do outrageous ideas — for example, that women are human beings, or that the U.S. locks up way too many people, or even that gay people should be able to get married if they want to — suddenly morph into everyday commonsense? It’s rarely an accident. It almost always involves dedicated people working away for years on an issue, often unnoticed, before it seems suddenly to surge into general awareness. ...

Read it all at the link. It will cheer you up.

And if this ugly election gets you down, do something. There's nothing more cheering than working for justice. You don't have to go far afield as I have; there are almost always necessary local campaigns that are organized to put you to use. Really -- working together with others for our victories is part of enjoying them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The worst ballot ever: part three, San Francisco measures

Can it really be that having spent hours on the state propositions, I now have City Measures A through X plus RR to try to comprehend? Yes, it can. Here goes:

Measure A: School bonds We need to fund the schools. (See also state Prop. 51.) Yes.

Measure B: City College parcel tax We need to fund City College. (See also the Community College Board.) Yes.

Measure C: Affordable housing loans We voted bonds in 1992 for seismic upgrades and some of that money is still around. This redirects it to affordable housing. Yes.

Measure D: appointments to vacant elected offices Since Willie Brown's time (1996-2004), mayors have frequently been able to overturn the will of the voters by replacing uncooperative supervisors with more malleable ones. Sometimes a sitting supervisor won higher office; sometimes the mayor dangled a plum appointment. This would stop that practice by requiring a special election for any vacated seat within 180 days. Let the people vote! Yes.

Measure E: Street trees WTF? The Department of Public Works has been passing off responsibility for trees on sidewalks (often the work of Friends of the Urban Forest) to property owners. Too many of these would rather cut the trees than assume the cost of care. This would raise $19 million to cover the cost of city care of the trees by a parcel tax based on property frontage. We'd be willing to pay for the care of our tree. Yes.

Measure F: Youth voting in local elections Would allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in San Francisco elections. If we can pass this, we'll be emulating Scotland. That seem like a pretty sane place. Youth activists jammed up the system to get this on the ballot. It's a great story. Yes.

Measure G: Department of Police Accountability This isn't going to solve the problem of the San Francisco Police Department running wild in communities of color. That's going to take "reconstitution," starting over with a command structure that comes from outside the old boy network and current police union. This would give what has been called the Office of Civilian Complaints at least a tiny amount of independence. Yes.

Measure H: Public Advocate New York has one of these and it seems to have got a pretty good mayor, Bill de Blasio, out of it. A Public Advocate's job is to make sure you’re getting fair treatment from the government. My termed out supervisor David Campos thinks we could use one; Campos is a smart guy so I am willing to give it a whirl. Yes.

Measure I: Funding for seniors and adults with disabilities This is a "set-aside" -- a budget category that legislators won't be able to wheel and deal with. I don't like that sort of thing. We elect people to figure out how to make all the interests get their piece; they should do their jobs. Yet I also know that some populations get screwed by the "regular" process. Am I really going to vote against old people? No. So, reluctantly, yes.

Measure J: Homeless services and transportation Well we certainly need them, so yes.

Measure K: Sales tax increase But apparently San Francisco can't have homeless services and transportation unless we also vote an additional sales tax. This is extortion. Let the tech billionaires pay for keeping the city whole! Apparently we can't do the obvious -- tax the people with the money -- so we have to do this. Very reluctantly, yes.

Measure L: Muni oversight This would let the supervisors appoint some of the members of the board of the transit system. Currently the mayor appoints all of them. Since nobody in their right mind thinks the mayor stands up for the interests of anyone but developers and tech money men, it would be helpful to introduce some popular friction into an otherwise closed system. Yes.

Measure M: Housing and development commission This aims to move some power over development away from the Mayor's Office because in recent seasons, the Mayor's Office has seemed to be shilling for developers rather than acting in the interests of all San Franciscans. Measure like this are what happens when people feel excluded from control over their homes. Yes.

Measure N: Non-citizen voting in School Board elections Sure -- remember whose kids are in the schools. These kids are our future. This is not a crazy San Francisco novelty: it happens in some parts of Maryland and Chicago. Yes.

Measure O: Office development in Hunters Point Lennar is a big corporate developer, long beloved of our mercenary city fathers going back to Willie Brown. It's always been their hope to develop the old Navy property and the city's last Black community by giving it away to Lennar. This would violate existing city rules which limit office development because developers never pay for the infrastructure and transit costs their projects create. The rest of us pay for that stuff while the corporations take the gravy. Lennar already won bounteous permits in Hunters Point. Enough. No.

Measure P: Competitive bidding for affordable housing San Francisco has an experienced cast of nonprofit housing developers based in our different communities such as Chinatown, the Mission, etc. This would require three bids for any city project, forcing groups that have managed to arrive at an intricate web of interconnections to compete. If there weren't three bids, a nonprofit housing project could not go forward.. Talk about the kind of over-regulation that conservatives (like the measure's conservative author Mark Farrell) usually rave against. It almost makes you think that the author doesn't want any nonprofit housing at all. No.

Measure Q: Tents on the sidewalk This is another Hate the Homeless measure. We vote on this sort of thing every few years. Street camping is already illegal -- but after all, we must Hate the Homeless. NO.

Measure R: Neighborhood crime unit Great, we've got a supervisor wanting us to vote to require the SFPD to focus on "quality of life" issues. That is, more Hate the Homeless. How about an initiative to disarm these killers on the loose among the communities of color? There's a bit of micro-managing I could get behind. NO.

Measure S: Hotel tax allocation We already tax hotel visits. Let's put some of that into housing homeless families. Yes.

Measure T: Lobbyist contributions Bars certain lobbyist contributions to candidates, though it is not clear whether many would escape its prohibitions. This kind of law often just moves money around. Still we have to try. Yes.

Measure U: Affordable housing requirements This would let developers off the hook for building as large a proportion of housing units for low income people as the current law requires -- and thus raise their profits. San Francisco is a profitable place to build. Make them recognize that the city's citizens retain some rights to control what they build and how many of us they can force out for their gain. NO.

Measure V: Sugary beverages tax We certainly should tax sodas! The beverage industry is trying to describe this as a "grocery tax". Sugar water is not my idea of groceries. This is coming; they can only hold it off for so long. Yes.

Measure W: Mansion tax This would raise the transfer tax on properties that sell for more than $5 million. I can't believe it would kill the buyers and sellers. Yes.

Measure X: Arts and industrial space retention San Francisco wouldn't be San Francisco if there were no place for the arts and small shops. But if the tech money gets its way, we'll have nothing but gleaming steel and orange paneled condos. This tries to help. Yes.

Measure RR: BART bonds I like BART (our subway). It's expensive, unless, like me, you are on senior fares, whereupon it is the best bargain around. It was designed for commuters from suburbs while we could really use more lines to get around town. But we need to fund its upkeep. Yes.

Part one: federal, state and local candidates.
Part two: state propositions

Monday, October 17, 2016

The worst ballot ever: part two, state propositions

The candidates on my crazy California ballot were the easy part. Here I'll pass along how I voted on the 17 state ballot measures. Yes, this is democracy gone berserk. There is no way to make informed choices on all of this. Worse, having just been out of the state for two months, I'm nowhere near as on top of these as I might be. But here goes:

Prop. 51: School bonds Since we've made it almost impossible to raise taxes, we issue bonds. The general election has reminded me how important education might be to preserving decency. Yes

And this little six-year-old said: "Because the other guy called someone a piggy, and you cannot be president if you call someone a piggy."

from Michelle Obama, Oct. 14, 2016

Prop. 52: Medi-Cal hospital fee This seems to be about making private hospitals pay their fair share. Yes

Prop. 53: Revenue bond vote This would make us vote on more items we know nothing about; longer ballots ahead. It isn't always comfortable, but in general we're smarter to delegate most governing to our legislators. No

Prop. 54: Legislative sunshine Makes the legislature publish what is in bills before votes and requires steaming video of all sessions. Yes though weakly. You can't entirely legislate transparency. If some want to play tricks, they'll find ways.

Prop. 55: Tax extension on the rich No brainer here. These are tax rates that already exist. We can't have the state we want unless it is paid for. Yes.

Prop. 56: Cigarette tax Hell, Yes!

Prop 57: Earlier parole This one has parts. It would open the possibility of parole for 30,000 non-violent felons and allow prison authorities to credit inmates with "good behavior." All fine and good, but it also shifts the decision on whether to try juveniles as adults from prosecutors to judges. That might turn out to be a significant reform as prosecutors have too many tools to get easy plea agreements as it stands. All these are baby steps toward dealing with a a racist, crazy-quilt system, but better than the status quo. Yes.

Prop. 58: English language learning This repeals one of California's racial backlash initiatives (Prop. 227) from the 1990s when the white electorate was trying to wish away the emerging majority of color. We effectively outlawed bilingual education with that one. These days we appreciate that bilingual education can be an effective strategy for ensuring that newcomer children learn in the public schools. About time! Yes.

Prop. 59: Overturning Citizens United Puts us on record as wanting the Supremes to allow regulation of corporate money in elections. No legal effect, but a cause about which reformers are passionate. Yes.

Prop. 60: Condoms in porn films This is the sort of thing that makes the state a national laughing stock. Rightly. Both Dems and GOPers think this is unnecessary, stupid law. We'll probably pass it. Not sure if I can bring myself to vote on it.

Prop. 61: Drug prices From the ads I've seen on TV, Big Pharma thinks this one might cost them. It enables the state to mandate that it pay no more for drugs than the Veterans Administration. Anything to nick Big Pharma. Yes.

Prop. 62: Death penalty repeal Finally something I know something about. Long time readers here will know I spent all of 2012 campaigning for a previous version and it lost narrowly. The death penalty is arbitrary (only about three county prosecutors call for it), crazy expensive, and inevitably racist in application. A federal judge who looked into it called it "dysfunctional" and "beyond repair." People realize this when they think about the reality that we have something like 750 men on death row and haven't executed any of them since 2006. Californians have had four more years to learn that the promise of retribution or closure embodied in the death penalty is cruel phony-baloney. Yes.

Prop. 63: Ammunition sales Most anything to restrict wider access to guns seems right to me. This is a step in the right direction. The law would require background checks for ammunition purchases and establish a system to get guns away from people with felonies or domestic violence orders. Yes.

Prop. 64: Marijuana legalization Gonna happen. About time no one goes to jail for pot. Yes.

Prop. 65: Carry out bags The plastic bag makers want us to help their polluting industry. This is a con. Ain't it great that we have a system in which, if you spend enough money, you can make us vote on anything? No.

Prop. 66: Death penalty enforcement Prosecutors strike back. Recognizing that sentiment against the death penalty is growing statewide, they want to try to resuscitate it. It is not that they are naturally blood thirsty (at least most of them.) But we have to understand how the "justice" system actually works. Those jury trials you see on TV are vanishingly rare. Most people charged with crimes make a plea bargain with the prosecutor for an agreed sentence rather than take the expense or risk of trial. Prosecutors love having the death penalty in their armory -- "take this plea or we'll make your offense a death case." That's powerful stuff. The so-called reforms in Prop. 66 won't work. I have great confidence that the capital defense lawyers will still be able to gum up the works -- and that California therefore will be no more likely to save money or execute offenders if this passes. Prosecutors don't need us to make their job easier. NO

Prop. 67: Plastic bag ban Now we're talking. San Franciscans have proved able to do without plastic bags; the rest of the state can too. This is what the plastic companies fear: we don't need their polluting product. Yes.

Having worked through these, I'm a little surprised how many I am voting "yes" on. That won't discourage the interests that put them on the ballot, but quite a few seem sensible or perhaps necessary because legislators can't or won't dare pass them the old-fashioned way.

Part one: federal, state and local candidates.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The worst ballot ever: part one, the candidates

My crazy California ballot has arrived and I aim to get it out the door ASAP. Why the hurry? If the San Francisco registrar is competent, and the campaigns are competent, I'll then drop off the radar and stop getting robocalls, human calls, and bushels of campaign mail. I don't count on it, but it seems worth a try.

As far as California federal and state officeholders go, there's not much that matters here. I'll vote for Kamala Harris for U.S. Senate with a certain lack of fervor. That's not entirely her fault; her only opponent on the ballot is another, slightly less desirable, Democrat as a consequence of the deeply discriminatory top-two primary system we have in this state. When enthusiasm and accident align, small parties and even some Republicans at the state level will never even get to put their case to the voters in the general election here where Democratic registration is 44 percent to GOP 29 percent. This is just wrong. Primaries should not limit which political parties get to present their case. As for Harris herself, she's been an acceptable Attorney General and would rise in my estimation if she ordered her office to investigate the case of Amilcar Perez Lopez, killed by the SFPD. But I am not holding my breath about that before the election.

My Congresscritter Nancy Pelosi will be re-elected in a walk. That's good for the country; she's a good leader for wobbly House Democrats. She is sometimes far to the right of her constituents, but at this point her constituency is the Democratic Party, not us.

I do face a State Senate race that matters. Our incumbent is termed out (stupid rule) and I'll be voting for Jane Kim. She wasn't my first choice some years ago for the San Francisco supervisor seat she currently occupies, but I was impressed even then by the competence and energy of her campaign. Should the quality of a campaign matter in choosing a candidate? Perhaps it is not the most important variable, but it matters to me as someone who works in elections. She's been a generally progressive supervisor and not part of the tech money club that is transforming the city without residents consent. Her opponent never met a landlord or developer he didn't cozy up to.

No Assembly vote. I'm still unhappy after seeing a run-of-the-mill big money chasing Democrat succeed to a seat which had been occupied by the termed-out progressive pol I admire most, Tom Ammiano. Local enmities run deep.

I don't think we should be voting on judges. It's a bad practice, exposing aspirants to the temptations of campaigning -- raising money and charming barely concerned voters. It's really hard for most of us to form intelligent opinions about judicial qualifications. Judges usually agree, retiring midterm so governors can put in their choice. Then they stand for election as incumbents, sometimes drawing challengers. This year, we're facing several aspirants for an opening as a Superior Court Judge (the lowest tier of the state system.) I'm voting for Victor Hwang, convinced by the Bay Guardian endorsements. In this case, it is a team thing: Hwang's opponent comes out of Mayor Ed Lee's big tech money axis. These guys need as many knocks up side the head as we can give them, so Hwang gets my vote.

As a resident of San Francisco's Supervisor District 9, I'm voting on one of these this year too. That's easy. Hillary Ronen is one smart lady. Like that other Hillary, she comes across as deep in the policy weeds; I've watched her sit in meetings taking in the noise and crosstalk, then raise points that show she is already thinking through the thicket of accumulated law and practice that might matter to achieve implementation. And she's part of a team, a slate of candidates who will work to assure that Ed Lee can't entirely give away the city to his tech money backers. The others, each running their own local races are Sandra Fewer in District 1; Aaron Peskin in District 3; Dean Preston in District 5; and Kimberly Alvarenga in District 11.

Ah yes -- then we get to the School Board. I am deeply certain that most of us should not be voting in this contest. Those of us without kids or other young relatives in the schools, what do we know about the kind of local education policies which these people determine? Not much. I worked very hard once to elect a School Board candidate and she not only won, she came in first out of eight or so. Consequently I know what it takes to get elected here: the city votes for 1) the people whose names they encountered most often and 2) candidates who tickle the various identity groups into which we divide ourselves. I think I'll follow the Bay Guardian suggestions but I can't manage to feel I have any worthwhile arguments for these choices.

Then there is the Community College Board. Because City College has been fighting for its life for the last half decade, I feel somewhat better informed here. Because San Franciscans struggled long and hard to preserve the sort of community-serving institution that decades of commitment had built (rather than succumb to pressure to downsize into a career certification mill), we've proved we want the school to continue. We've even voted bonds and taxes to pay for it. Shanell Williams, Tom Temprano, and Rafael Mandelman were in the thick of the fight to save City College. Let's see them nurture it!

I get to vote for Bevan Dufty for BART (rapid transit) board. It feels strange; I worked for his opponents when he was District 8 supervisor. But he's been working for improve conditions for homeless people in the years since and my friends who labor in those vineyards give him good marks. So, okay.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Can I just say what a pleasure it is to watch a slimy tech billionaire throw good money down the drain?

Saturday scenes: a memorial for a cyclist

On a San Francisco street corner, an obsolete(?) fire call box. What's this?

Friends of Kirk Janes have told his story on stickers wrapped around the post.

It's been eight years, but he is remembered, at least until the city street cleaners come through to scrape off his story.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Hope in a tough season

Here at the bitter end (that seems the right adjective, doesn't it?) of this nasty campaign, it is great to share a story from someone for whom taking part is an occasion for hope.

Yaritza Garcia is too young to vote herself and her family members are undocumented. But she believes it will make the lives of her family and friends better if she works to get those who can vote out to the polls.

Young people of color are always told that we don’t know what is happening around us. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to make a change for myself or other people around me. But I feel voting gives me the freedom to prove them otherwise. One vote can always make a difference.

Many people don’t get the chance to vote since they don’t have legal status or they aren’t citizens. My mother and sister are not allowed to vote. Despite living here for decades, they never get the opportunity to vote and improve their quality of life. That’s why young voters of color need to vote. People of color are the majority of the population in California. However, most youth of color find it difficult to vote because work, school, and other priorities come first. But also voting information, like the propositions and how they impact communities, is not reaching them in a way that speaks to them. In a way, elections are set up in a way so that we don’t go vote. We are convinced that our votes don’t matter, therefore, we uphold the stereotype that we don’t care.

But if young voters of color aren’t turning out to vote, then who is going to help us get our voices and opinions to matter during elections? ... Can we continue to stand on the sidelines while others vote for us?

Ms. Garcia is a member of Californians for Justice, the organization to which so many readers of this blog contributed last summer.

For those of us who have been around too many political laps, cynicism is easy and safe. But refusing to hope can be self-indulgence; young people remind us to get over ourselves.

Friday cat blogging

Morty doing his thing: looking beautiful.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

At home in the Mission ...

... where homes are wrenched from their occupants.

Tenants organized by Causa Justa spoke out against a landlord who changed the locks on their long-term home in front of a property management company on Valencia Street yesterday.

Displacement goes on; people fight back.

Election minutiae: NFL being upstaged?

American football and U.S. elections simulate warfare constrained by a framework of rules. This chart of TV ratings suggests our present unruly fray is sucking our attention from one national pastime to the other.

Data via MMQB.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Feminism in a Clinton White House

Continuing with my resolve to pay attention to what a Hillary Clinton presidency might/will be like, here's some fascinating banter from two New York Times reporters, Jodi Kantor and Susan Dominus. Kantor wrote what I considered a genuinely revealing book about the Obama White House. She's thought hard about this sort of thing.

[Jodi Kantor]: ... This could be messy. Defining the Feminist Thing to Do in a woman’s White House is likely to be a running riddle, because which is the project: role reversal or wiping away outdated roles altogether?. Perhaps the first husband should smash the outdated conventions of the presidential-spouse role, do away with the floral-botanical complex for good? Publicly discuss Syria policy and environmental protection, because who made the rule that smart presidential spouses don’t discuss that stuff, anyway? But the risk of undercutting or overshadowing Hillary Clinton is great, as we saw in the 2008 race.

Cosmically, it seems as if figuring this all out could be part of Bill Clinton’s penance for the damage he did years ago. He is unlikely to talk about it. First spouses have little incentive for public introspection — name the last deep interview Michelle Obama did — but his actions will speak volumes. ...

[Susan Dominus]: Of course, we do have a precedent for a first spouse who advised the president on foreign policy, and pretty much everything else, and that was Hillary Clinton. Many of her supporters at the time called that feminism; but as you suggest, if Bill were to play as much of a role in her presidency as she did in his (especially in his first term), it would look anything but feminist, to the public.

... I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but it is comforting to realize that Hillary Clinton is probably not singular, that there will be other women running for president as serious candidates going forward. And possibly those elections will be far less fraught than this one. ...The recording has amplified, for many women, their sense of the urgency of this election. It’s not just that they can’t bear Trump, or that they love Hillary; it’s that the election is about something bigger now than just the office of the presidency. The recording put many women directly in touch with their outrage about the outdated, the exclusionary, the sexist, the predatory, the power-and-otherwise grabby. ...

The sexist environment created by electing the first woman U.S. president isn't going to go away just because HRC vanquishes Mr. GOP Id.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Scary debate takeaway

One of the many unfortunate consequences of the GOP serving up a fascist, sexist, white nationalist presidential candidate is that there's very little psychic and intellectual space left over within which to examine what the Democratic candidate is offering. At least that's how the Clinton/Trump race works for me. We have to elect Hillary -- and we almost certainly will -- but the horror of Trump almost precludes thinking about her.

So, for the record, I'm sharing Josh Marshall's take on Clinton's foreign policy pronouncements at Sunday nights' debate.

What bothered me was what Clinton said about Syria and Russia. I grant that Vladimir Putin seems to be trying to influence the election on Trump’s behalf and that he may have ambitions in Eastern Europe that could lead to serious conflict with NATO. But there’s a real danger in turning the Obama administration’s rift with Putin over the Ukraine and Syria into the grounds for a return to the Cold War. That’s what I heard Clinton doing during the debate.

The Obama administration’s primary adversary in Syria has been Bashar Assad’s regime. It [I think Marshall means Assad though some might debate this] has been responsible for transforming what was initially a civilian Arab Spring-type call for political reform into a brutal civil war that has degenerated into a contest between a dictator bent on retaining his rule even at the cost of destroying his own country and a ragged group of rebels led by Islamist terrorist organizations. Russia, which has historically backed Assad and has a naval base in Syria, has taken Assad’s side, and we have backed Assad’s opponents, while covertly cooperating with Russia and Assad’s other ally, Iran, in fighting one of these terrorist groups, ISIS. It’s a really ugly situation that defies easy answers or obvious choices for alliance.

But in characterizing the war in Syria, Clinton astonishingly blamed the war’s atrocities on “Russian aggression.” And she advocated setting up a “no-fly zone,” a proposal that if it were not seriously narrowed, could lead to an air war between the United States and Russia. The Obama administration has wisely rejected this kind of strategy. Should Clinton’s remarks be taken seriously? There is a precedent: in the 1960 presidential campaign, John Kennedy out-hawked Richard Nixon on Cuba. Kennedy’s hawkishness on Cuba led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and to a fifty-five years of a destructive policy toward that country. Could Clinton’s posture during the campaign carry over to her presidency? That worries me. But I’ll still take my chances with her over Trump, and I suspect the country will, too, in November, regardless of who won last night’s debate.

My emphasis.

While covering Sunday's debate, Farai Chideya at 538 pointed out:

In one of the latest Clinton emails revealed by Wikileaks, she said in 2013: “To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defenses, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk — you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.” Tonight, she reiterated her support for a no-fly zone.

Clinton seems to instinctively lean toward policies that will increase the carnage. There has to be another way.