Saturday, February 29, 2020

From my clutter: electoral miscellany

In anxious anticipation of the Democratic primaries in South Carolina and across the nation on Super Tuesday, a few items that made me think.

Kos reminded us:

No white male has ever gotten 63 million votes in a presidential election. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both hit 65 million.

I'll be working for whoever wins the Democratic nomination. No doubt about that. Exactly what the campaign will require will depend on who we nominate. We might be aiming to bring out suburbanites who don't like Trump, but don't trust our nominee either. We might be focused on activating people who haven't voted before to do something new and a little scary. Or both. The work will be demanding in any case. Martin Longman offers a metaphorical frame that might seem glib, but I suspect is accurate.

I guess my biggest worry is that I have doubts about any strategy that depends on people doing what they have not done in the past. I have too much experience with people who suffer from addiction to believe that this is often a winning bet.

And then there are the billionaires bigfooting about. In the last few days, I've seen both Steyer and especially Bloomberg described as "vanity candidates." Let's hope we make sure they are no more than footnotes in a crazy time. Ezra Klein sums up the implication if Bloomberg were to prevail:

Bloomberg’s ... campaign isn’t a betrayal of the political and economic system we have now but its logical extension: If we are going to allow this much wealth concentration, and if the Supreme Court holds that the rich can spend as much money pursuing their political ambitions as they want, then eventually American politics will simply become a competition between billionaires of the left and billionaires of the right, and no one will be able to stop it because it’ll feel dangerous and even immoral to unilaterally disarm and let the other side spend you into oblivion.

Finally, here are some reflections from the journalist Masha Gessen -- a refugee from Soviet Russia's tyrannous pseudo-socialism, a lesbian who advocates for human freedom and dignity -- on Bernie Sander's tone-deaf inability in recent remarks on Cuba and China to move beyond the "revolutionary" romanticism of the mid-twentieth century left. That left has proved itself provincial.

Sanders stepped into the gap that separates the American-born left from those of us who came here from totalitarian countries. The regimes we fled did their best to discredit Marxism, socialism, and leftist ideas in general. To a large extent, they succeeded. When I was growing up, my parents believed, and taught me, that the attempt to build a state in accordance with Marxist ideals—or, really, any attempt to create a society in which everyone contributed what they could and received what they needed—was doomed to produce a totalitarian dystopia. We longed to escape to a land ruled by the blissful and, it seemed to us, natural union of capitalism and freedom.

In the U.S., some of us commenced the long journey to a more complicated view of capitalism. At the other end of this journey lay the realization that capitalism and democracy may not be a match made in heaven, and the hypothesis, supported by the example of Western social democracies, that socialist ideas may yield a freer and fairer society. These discoveries suggested that socialist ideas can and ought to be decoupled from the totalitarian nightmare of our past—indeed, that those totalitarian regimes, whatever they might have written on their banners, had very little to do with those ideas.

... imagine Sanders saying that the Nazis were terrible but they had great cancer-prevention programs. Such a statement would be factually true. It would also be unconscionable, because the nature of totalitarianism is to rob every one of its subjects of agency, dignity, and humanity.

... What Sanders could have said, and should have said, is that totalitarianism, that most horrible of inventions of the twentieth century, is one of the greatest crimes against humanity. But it should not discredit the ideas of common welfare and basic fairness that make up socialism. Totalitarianism can weaponize any ideology; socialism is no more essentially totalitarian than capitalism is essentially democratic. This would have been at once factually true and true to the politics that Sanders has espoused. ... It’s as if Sanders didn’t realize that all of these good things that he cites—literacy, public medicine, access to culture and public transportation, and being lifted out of poverty—are good because they create the conditions for human dignity, which is precisely what totalitarianism destroys.

Perhaps this seems particularly pertinent to me, because I lived some of the mid-twentieth century in circles where that revolutionary romanticism was a norm. I think I am being honest that I was never as uncritical as Bernie seems to have been once upon a time. Bernie is critical now, though the media can't seem to take notice of it. Could he listen to a wise woman?

Friday, February 28, 2020

Friday cat blogging

Morty found a sun beam in this unseasonable summer weather Northern California is enjoying.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Meet the Democratic candidate for US Senate in Arizona

If Democrats are going to take control of the Senate in the November election, they need to win in Arizona. Here's the guy who is on track to do the job.

If you told me when I was 16 that I’d reach my dream of being a Navy pilot and astronaut, I wouldn’t have believed you. Now, my hope for Arizona is that everybody gets a chance to achieve their own American dream.

Another fact about this retired astronaut: alongside his wife, ex-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was badly injured in a mass shooting in 2011, he's spent the last few years campaigning against gun violence. Mark Kelly seems a right candidate for Arizona.

Right now, Kelly is leading in the polls, but this will be a very tough election.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Choosing hope

The Christian faith is not sensible. After all, we claim to live in hope that death has no further dominion, that life wins -- errant nonsense in a material sense. And, once we reach a certain maturity, we all learn in our creaky bones that our individual life won't win. We see that for too many around us, life didn't win. And there was nothing "fair" about it.

On Ash Wednesday we are reminded that we come from dust and to dust we will return. (Perhaps stardust?)

Daniel Schultz, a feisty UCC minister, who has been kicking around the progressive blogosphere as long as I have, seems to be currently happily ensconced at Religion Dispatches where he makes himself the scourge of white evangelicals who wallow in terror of cultural erasure. He reminds that we've been enjoined in our old books to "fear not."

Christianity teaches ... that there are worse things than dying (chief among them the hardening of one’s heart), and that life can only be properly lived by surrendering it compassionately to others. That’s what it means for Christians to belong to Jesus. It isn’t remotely radical to say that we believe that Christ gave up his life for God and for the community of people who followed him; Christians give up their lives for Christ, and for one another. (In theory, anyway. Practice is another thing.)

As we contemplate our mortality through the ashes, let's try to at least pretend that we are not afraid and can aim our brief lives more toward hope than fear.

Make him spend it all!

Last night's Democratic debate puts me in mind of a little electoral history. I have to admit I didn't watch the South Carolina show; I was busy. But bad news leaks through ...

Let's see ... apparently Mayor Mike blurted that he'd "bought" Democratic Congressional victories in 2018 -- then quickly tried to walk that bold claim back. He's pretty tone deaf. Observers commented on the size of his cheering section in the audience -- which makes sense when you learn that tickets cost $1750. Just when Elizabeth Warren was beating him up again, they'd take a break -- and go to another paid Bloomberg ad. It seems it was that kind of night.

We've seen something like this before. Nineteen ninety-four in California was a terrible election if you cared about equity, justice, or simple human decency. A very white (Trumpish?) electorate re-elected GOPer Pete Wilson as governor, passed Prop. 187 which amounted to telling immigrants to go die, and voted down a single-payer health plan. The election was a wipe out for progressive values.
With one semi-exception: all that autumn, a still fresh-faced Diane Feinstein who had won a partial U.S. Senate term two years before, had been competing with a Republican twit named Michael Huffington. Huffington was a one term Congressman whose qualification for the Senate was that he had bundles of oil and gas money. Big bundles. The sums may seem trivial now, but back in the day the $28 million of his own money he spent trying to defeat Feinstein was thought gargantuan.

Democrats trailed the unfortunate Huffington around the state chanting "Make him spend it all, Diane!" Not perhaps her sort of joke, but on point.

Feinstein prevailed in a nail-biter by a mere ca. 150,000 votes out of some 8 million cast. She has never been so seriously challenged for office since.

Michael Huffington faded out of Republican politics and came out as gay. His wife, Ariana, divorced him and went on to found (and later sell) the internet news vehicle that bears the Huffington name. Life went on and eventually sanctuary for immigrants and the hope for a single-payer health system came to characterize the state.
Bloomberg billboard generator:

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Some other people and measures on a San Francisco March 3 ballot

Hey -- we're about to have an election! No, not that one which is the obsession of every conscious Democrat and Trump resister. I mean a perfectly ordinary primary: on March 3, we'll be picking the candidates running for Congress, State Assembly, and in my bit of San Francisco, State Senator. Plus there are three Superior Court judgeships up, a smallish array of ballot measures, and long lists of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee.

Some thoughts, none particularly deep:

Congress: Nancy Pelosi. Gosh, this will be her last term and then we'll have to survive a knockdown, drag-out, intra-party brawl over who gets to inherit this safe, plumb Congressional seat in 2022. What seems like a million years ago in 1986, I worked a little for Pelosi's progressive opponent who got outspent and run over by the town's money players. Her designated successor will likely accomplish a similar feat unless the progs can whittle down their field to one contender.

Meanwhile, Pelosi has fulfilled her present impossible job perhaps as well as anybody could. That's saying a lot in these times.

State Senator: while Walking San Francisco, I was thrilled to come across this flyer lying on a stoop, thus discovering that Scott Wiener had an ambitious challenger. I don't really know much about Jackie Fielder beyond her campaign lit which describes her as a Native American/Mexicana queer activist who has worked on the concept of a public bank. I'll vote for her.

I've seen far too much of Wiener to leave him unchallenged. With his legislation (SB50) to upzone most of the state to allow more residential construction, he's put California's need for more housing density firmly on the state agenda. That's great -- except that it never occurred to Wiener to design his housing policy alongside the scores of hard-working affordable housing advocates and developers in both Los Angeles and the Bay who've been struggling for equitable, sustainable growth for decades. Naw -- Wiener just wrote up the developers' and more conservative construction unions' wish list and called it a housing density program. So far his efforts have been turned back in the legislature. Let's send him a message by voting for Fielder.

State Assembly: Nobody seems to be challenging the incumbent David Chiu. Too bad.

State ballot measure 13: Bonds for public schools. Yes.

City Prop. A: Bonds to repair and upgrade facilities at City College of San Francisco. I could wish that CCSF's administration understood better its obligation to make this institution work of all city residents, rather than pretending it should be only an academic U.C. feeder school. But the buildings need our help. Yes.

City Prop. B: Earthquake bonds. When the quake comes, if this stuff has been done, we might be a little more prepared. Yes.

City Prop. C: Health benefits for city workers absorbed from the federal public housing administration. Crazy, but legal quirks mean they can't be covered without a popular vote. So, Yes.

City Prop. D: Tax on retail stores held unrented and empty. Walking San Francisco makes me very conscious that some neighborhood shopping areas are turning into dead zones. It's happening in North Beach -- but it is also happening on outer Taraval. Don't know if this will help, but good to try something. Yes.

City Prop. E: Moratorium on approvals for office space unless it is accompanied by affordable housing. There's a reason we've got unhoused people trying to stay alive on our sidewalks: we've imported thousands of new office workers without making provision for where people are going to live. Some newcomers make good money and can pay high rents; workers in service jobs paid less get squeezed; some San Franciscans get pushed out altogether, and pretty soon we've got tents all around. We need some serious planning for all of us in this city. This give us a chance. Yes.

Superior Court Judges: I hate that we vote on judges. This seems a recipe for corruption, though I don't know of a system I trust more. The chances of our actually knowing much about the candidates are vanishingly small unless we hang out with lawyers. Interestingly, all six of the candidates for three positions are women of color. FWIW, several progressive slate cards list: Maria Evangelista, Michelle Tong, and Carolyn Gold.

We also have the opportunity to vote for a slate of candidates for Democratic County Central Committee. This feels like voting for high school student council, but I'm glad when they put the party on the side I agree with, so I do it. I take my list from the San Francisco Bay Guardian endorsements: John Avalos, Hillary Ronen, David Campos, Christopher Christensen, Matt Haney, Frances Hsieh, Shanell Williams, Kevin Ortiz, Nomvula O’Meara, Jane Kim, Honey Mahogany, Gloria Berry, Peter Gallotta, and Anabel IbaƱez.

Monday, February 24, 2020

On blaming capitalism on the Protestant Reformation

Rembrandt's Syndics (1662) were inspectors of woven cloth -- and most likely Protestants.
Why am I devoting so many hours to pondering Diarmaid MacCulloch's very l-o-o-ng The Reformation: A History? The impulses that inspire this effort lead off in several directions. One direction is a suspicion that the technologically mediated disruptions of longstanding social patterns which we are experiencing in the contemporary globalized internet era were perhaps equaled by the shattering of European society ushered in by the printing press, popular literacy, and a splintering Catholic Christendom -- all MacCulloch's subjects. Those medieval Europeans saw their universe blown apart by new science, rediscovered history, and novel approaches to the mystery of God; we too are seeing old verities -- stable societies and a stable climate -- disappear without much clue what new possibilities are being born.

MacCulloch is a rare type of historian, aspiring for broad brush tableaus as much as accurate detail from the past. And he can be fascinating on the subject of other writers who have attempted similar sweeping efforts -- especially when he disagrees.

I can't resist sharing his firm, but thorough, take-down of Max Weber's powerful notion that the Reformation gave Europe the conditions for our economic system.
Max Weber, a nineteenth century German sociologist of genius, constructed out of his understanding of Protestantism a theory that still remains influential, particularly among those who are not historians. ... Protestant England and Protestant Netherlands undoubtedly both became major economic powers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries --pioneers in economic production and virtuosos in commerce and the creation of capital and finance systems, while formerly entrepreneurial Catholic Italy stagnated. Why?

Any simple link between religion and capitalism founders on both objections and counterexamples. One could point out that rather than taking its roots from religion, this new wealth and power represents a shift from Mediterranean to North Sea that has political roots: particularly the disruption caused by the Italian wars from the 1490s, and the long-term rise of the Ottoman Empire ... Striking counterexamples would be the economic backwardness of Reformed Protestant Scotland or Transylvania. This suggests that the prosperity of England and the Netherlands arose precisely because they were not well-regulated Calvinist societies, but from the mid seventeenth century had reluctantly entrenched religious pluralism alongside a privileged Church ...

One powerful objection to the whole notion of a structural or causal link between Reformed Protestantism and capitalism comes from the very dubious further linkage that is often made between Protestantism generally and individualism. Individualism, the denial or betrayal of community, is, after all, seen as one of the basic components of the capitalist ethos. It is very frequently suggested that medieval Catholicism was somehow more communitarian and collective than the Protestantism that replaced it ... Yet the evidence I have drawn together here goes against such assertions. Calvinism is a Eucharist-centered and therefore community-minded faith. Its discipline at its most developed was designed to protect the Eucharist from devilish corruption [sinners receiving unworthily] and the resulting societies formed one of the most powerful and integrated expressions of community ever seen in Europe. ...

The "spirit of capitalism" debate shows how sensitive we should be in placing theology in its context before making our efforts to put together cause and effect. Equally we should never forget that theology is an independent variable, capable in the Reformation of generating huge transformations in society, modes of behavior, and the very shape of the year. ...
I haven't the scholarship to adjudicate between Weber and MacCulloch on Protestantism and capitalism, though I can say I've read both. In general, I lean more toward historians' world view; sociology often feels schematic and bloodless. Both reinforce awareness of the explosive magnitude of the changes that the Reformation introduced into European societies and beyond.

Previous posts in my The Reformation: A History series:
The Reformation: Islamophobia and a slavery past
The subversive weapon of the Reformation: musical propaganda
Bishop Laud and his cats

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Ficus fracas

The City of San Francisco wants to cut down the mature leafy ficus trees that line 24th Street in the Mission. It's true: they drop heavy limbs on people and cars all too often during storms.

But they also give our surviving "Main Street" part of its distinctive charm. They hold a lot of love.

In January neighbors of the trees won a two month stay of execution which is about to run out.

Saturday, February 22, 2020


Not sure this is a disguised camera, but it might be.

I think about this when wandering about Walking San Francisco. Home surveillance cameras like Amazon's Ring are certainly picking up my perambulations around city neighborhoods. Who is that person with the camera (on the street I am often not accurately identified by gender) who goes by looking at houses intently? I take seriously the concerns of privacy advocates.

The cameras, they say, intrude on other people’s privacy by recording motion detected up to 30 feet away. The rights of passersby such as dog walkers, mail carriers, and children playing across the street are being violated without their consent, said Mike Katz-Lacabe, a member of Oakland Privacy, a coalition of people who are concerned about privacy and surveillance.

“Personally, I don’t want to live in a surveillance dystopia where my neighbors are essentially spying on me on behalf of my local law enforcement,” he said. ...

[Evan] Greer, [director of Fight for the Future,] said ... “I think it’s very Silicon Valley to assume we can either have a world with package theft, or we can live in a totalitarian surveillance state — but you can’t do both,” she said. “Given the choice, I’d rather live in a world with a little bit of package theft and a little less fascism.”

San Francisco Chronicle

Now I'm not bothering anyone or even approaching any doors. I might photograph your door as I walk by, if you've painted it in interesting colors or hung something novel off it. San Franciscans do the darndest things to express their individuality in their house exteriors, even in neighborhoods where the underlying architecture is mundane.

Other examinations of the proliferation of private-residence, cloud-enabled security cameras raise other concerns. Apparently Amazon's video cache of Ring observations has been hacked. And just having the cameras has trained their owners to be voyeurs.

The Washington Post surveyed more than 50 owners of in-home and outdoor camera systems across the United States about how the recording devices had reshaped their daily lives. Most of those who responded to online solicitations about their camera use said they had bought the cameras to check on package deliveries and their pets, and many talked glowingly about what they got in return: security, entertainment, peace of mind. Some said they worried about hackers, snoops or spies.

But in the unscientific survey, most people also replied that they were fine with intimate new levels of surveillance — as long as they were the ones who got to watch. ...

Matthew Guariglia, an analyst for the online-rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, [commented:] “Who hasn’t looked out and watched other people through their peephole? There’s a kind of morbid fascination to it,” he said. “The problem is when it’s not just you behind a peephole but a camera that’s on at all times, saving to a cloud you don’t control.”

We're losing privacy most everywhere and we don't usually even think of it. We all carry underlying, mostly unconscious, daily fears; we wish we were protected. And you just know that the downsides of all this surveillance will be felt most heavily where they always are, where people are least empowered to talk back to the watchers -- in poor communities and in communities of color.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Let's think differently ... ?

One of the oddest things about the current political moment is that Billionaire Mike's bullion is resuscitating a dying medium as a political tool.

Broadcast TV is on its way to extinction. Younger people don't watch TV though they certainly consume plenty of product through screens. Only time sensitive events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars draw significant live audiences.

But TV still outpaces all other information sources -- social media, radio, print -- when it comes to "news." Those of us immersed in other media may wonder at that, but survey data says it is true.

The political campaign serves as a "made for TV" event and ongoing spectacle. Because national terrors are real, it's quite a draw. Wednesday's delightful debate was the most watched primary debate ever. Kick billionaire butt, Liz!

In the big states, particularly the Super Tuesday anchors California and Texas, TV really remains the most likely point of contact with the whole kerfuffle for most potential votes. Only Bloomberg can afford to rule there. Justin Powers has reported on watching 185 Bloomberg ads, immersed in what he quotes Elizabeth Spiers describing as "mediocre messaging at massive scale." He concludes that Bloomberg has made himself "inescapable," but we still don't know if that equals "electable." You can replicate Powers's disturbing media diet by following this link.

Many political professionals had come to doubt the efficacy of TV advertising; they had measured the effect of any ad as small and fleeting, gone in about a week at best. We're getting to see whether flooding the zone can overcome that -- or whether real world events such as the Nevada debate and caucuses (and Trump rallies) can interrupt the flow.

I think I would not bet on TV even at Bloomberg volume. But, to my horror, I might be proved wrong.

Friday cat blogging

I had the sensation I was being watched. I was.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Democratic debate

If you missed it, enjoy watching Elizabeth Warren eviscerate Michael Bloomberg.

This was the first Democratic primary debate I've watched in a while. Aside from Bloomberg, every single one of them (even Pete and his foil Ms. Klobuchar) knows they must speak to a Democratic consensus that (per Pew) government must do more to help the needy - 71%; racial discrimination is the reason that black people can't get ahead - 64%; and that immigrants strengthen the country - 84%.

This cumbersome, anxiety inducing primary process provides an arena within which those values can deepen and thrive. I am left feeling hopeful again about my fellow citizens.

Torture continues

Erudite Partner takes on the corrosive reality that impunity for torturers has embedded this abuse in our government's routine assaults on vulnerable people.

If one administration can get away with confining detainees in coffin-like boxes and torturing them in myriad other ways, why shouldn’t a later one go unpunished for, to take but one example, putting migrant children in cages?

L.A. Progressive

The Obama administration chose to allow torturers to walk free, even promoted some -- is it any surprise that a truly vicious executive would revel in its power to destroy human lives without legal limit? Here we are.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Great candidate at work

A friend who supports State Rep. Charles Booker's effort to challenge Kentucky U.S. Senator "Moscow" Mitch McConnell asked me to "like" his guy's Facebook page. Booker is a very impressive candidate.

We're not a joke; we're not a tragedy ..."

Can Booker beat McConnell, the nemesis of all progressive hopes in the U.S. Senate? That's a tough project. And there is another well-financed candidate endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee running in the state primary to be held on May 19. Booker is a long shot to even get to make the November ballot. But this is a terrific introductory candidate video, definitely worth viewing. Booker can make you feel hope about Kentucky.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Keeping on

A walk through a lovely park today with a good friend prepared me for this -- a question posed by another friend on Facebook: "what gets you up in the morning, keeps you going, and gives you hope?"
Well, first off, there is necessity. Failing to keep on keeping on is not an available choice.

And then, once the creaking joints and the befuddled sleeping mind begin to stir, there's all that's out there. Other people who are their own unique people; the lively city; in some of the best moments, the wonder of trails and hills.

And above all, the solidarity of people struggling together for justice. A mere smidgen of that energy released in a hurting world can go a very long way.

And, of course, the E.P.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Time for some both/and thinking

The presidential primary is igniting a familiar round of Stupid between Democrats. One kind of analyst is arguing that if we don't pick a candidate who is persuasive to white lower middle class and working class voters, all will be lost. Meanwhile, we've got at least one aspiring president, who has a good chance of getting the nod, exuding confidence that he can mobilize new and young voters and sweep to victory. Proponents of these views are throwing data-filled brickbats each other.

Here's my bit of anecdata to add to the mix. In 2012, a year when Obama's re-election captured the energies of national Democrats and progressive interest groups were asleep at the switch, a highly conventional Republican picked himself up a Senate seat in Nevada. In 2018, Dean Heller lost that seat to Democrat Jackie Rosen in an election which Democrats made a referendum on Trump and health care. Getting to that happy outcome was a lot of work. Rosen ran a competent campaign with adequate TV advertising. Meanwhile advocacy groups and the hospitality workers union (UniteHERE/Culinary) worked to increase turnout. And we did, massively. A highly regarded New York Times poll in October said that if turnout was in its normal range, Heller would win. But if we could grow the aggregate votes cast, Rosen would prevail and she did, by 7 percentage points.

So did we achieve this by turning out suburbanites and the disgruntled white working class -- or was this a margin made by young people and people of color?

Yes. Both! Winning takes both kinds. Some places will lean toward one of these poles more than another, but winning the next election will inevitably require persuasion of reluctant friends everywhere. We went prospecting in Latinx neighborhoods and in new-built suburban gated communities for potential friendly votes. The people who we brought out were all kinds ...that's what high turnout means.

And further, that when people are not regular voters, whether moderate or conservative or liberal or simply muddled, getting them to vote always requires persuasion. There's plenty of alienation from the process out there. They aren't going to vote because they fall in love with some complex policy proposal. Most occasional voters aren't going to believe anything anyone tells them about what they might get from a politician. They vote because someone persistently asks them to, and this is what people around them are doing, and because they decide that, once again, they want to be part of it all, however remote that might feel from their daily lives. Voting is not that difficult and, just maybe, it might matter ...

2020 is going to be a referendum on whether we want to live through another four years of Trump. Polling makes it pretty clear that a majority doesn't want that -- not a huge majority, but nevertheless a majority. It's also true that none of the Democratic hopefuls inspire universal enthusiasm. All inspire anxiety as well as hope and the GOPers will work to amplify doubts. Whoever the Dems nominate, getting to a majority will take diligent persuasion to move people to the polls.

Democrats can't escape the need to persuade our less frequent voters regardless of who we nominate. We can, however, organize ourselves to make sure that the essential person-to-person persuasion happens.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Out of my clutter: offered to your brain

"Talk to any electric utility company and they will explain."

There's a signal to run screaming from any opinion column or columnist.

David Neiwert reflects on far right marches in Portland, OR and Washington, DC.

... we have also learned that far-right activists prefer to march without opposition—and that when the opposition is overwhelming in numbers, they may just choose to remain at home. That will be useful knowledge down the road.


Why getting news from TV and videos is a recipe for missing nuance ... this apparently is why I almost never choose to watch video feeds.

One thing that normal consumers may not appreciate is that there is a wide gulf in the information density offered by print media and on television news. In the first 15 minutes of a Trump rally in New Hampshire earlier this week, he said about 1,700 words. The average American reads about 238 words per minute, meaning that you could read Trump’s remarks in about half the time it took him to say them. And he was speaking without commercial interruption or any back-and-forth with a network anchor. This article would have taken you twice as long to read out loud to this point as it has been for you to read it silently.

Philip Bump

I do sacrifice learning what people and scenes look like. Is my trade off worthwhile?

If we are going to have cars in cities ...

Friday, February 14, 2020

Friday cat blogging and a little Reformation cat history

Morty is tired these days; he enjoys his naps.
As a bonus to today's cat blogging, here's another tidbit picked up from The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch. In 1645, William Laud, the archbishop of Canterbury, lost his head -- literally -- in one of the twists and turns of that great political and theological struggle which was the English Civil War. Laud's version of an Anglican compromise between full-on Reformed Calvinism and Roman Catholic papism couldn't stand in a time when it was allied with an unskilled, unpopular monarch, Charles I -- who also lost his head. Laud promoted the ascendancy of bishops, ceremony in church ritual, and was raised up as a martyr of the faith once the tide of Puritan rebellion receded.

MacCulloch is gently caustic about Laud but appreciates one of the man's virtues.

Laud was prominent in a royal regime that after 1629 ceased to trouble itself with meeting Parliament and instead tried to sort out England's problems with royal proclamations ...

Laud had a reputation for being kindhearted to the poor, and he showed engaging affection for his pet cats and his giant tortoise (a beast that survived all the subsequent upheavals at Lambeth Palace until it was accidentally killed by a gardener in the mid-eighteenth century.) ... His orderly mind and humorless dedication appealed to King Charles, another self-contained little man; between them they showed no awareness that they might need to inspire popular enthusiasm for the innovations in religion they now foisted on a horrified Church of England. ...

In the Laudians' zeal to make worship and church interiors more holy, they offended against long-standing silent understandings of religious behavior. They even tried to stop people bringing their dogs to church. The English were already a nation of dog enthusiasts if not dog lovers, and they tolerated dogs in church on the same basis as children, as long as both groups behaved themselves. There was much fury among churchgoers at the cat-loving archbishop's intolerance. ...

Dog people against cat people -- from such divisions are deadly polarizations launched.

Previous posts in my The Reformation: A History series:
The Reformation: Islamophobia and a slavery past
The subversive weapon of the Reformation: musical propaganda

Thursday, February 13, 2020

California primary: who is gonna do the doorknocking?

Interesting article in today's Chronicle about Democratic presidential aspirants staffing up in California for the March 3 primary (in which voting by mail has already begun). The state is simply too big for most traditional "ground games" to have any wide impact. Nonetheless, billionaire Bloomberg has gone big: he has 300 staffers according to this report. Bernie has 90; Warren 50; Biden 20.

Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, who organized election field work in the state for both Obama and Hillary Clinton, makes an observation about putting up a field effort here that I find accurate:
“The beauty of California, even if you don’t have a lot of time, is that we have a lot of volunteers across the state, a really highly trained activist base, who know how to do this,” Wicks said.
That's fine as far as unpaid work goes. Volunteers can be tremendously helpful unpaid assets. And paid phone banks are always a possibility since they can be located anywhere -- except that research shows that the return from such calls is close to non-existent. But in a near-to-full-employment economy, where are campaigns going to pick up short term staffers who can competently organize and carry out voter contact, especially at the doors?

One possibility: California does have a good sized cohort of professional signature gatherers who survive on the piecework job of qualifying measures for ballots. It's a difficult, high turnover, activity, but I did once know someone who funded a law school education that way. Maybe campaigns can find some of their low level staff there? These people have a significant skill.

There's another current obstacle to campaigns staffing up: people who are available for human contact work are being recruited by the 2020 Census for $30 an hour. Compared to the campaigns, that's a real job with a considerable duration. If I wanted such a job, I'd go that way unless I had an ideological attachment to a candidate. Mike Bloomberg might have to offer a very high rate for a small return.

Because I am Walking San Francisco, I can provide a little anecdata from the last month about campaigns' visibility. There's plenty of Bernie litter (doorhangers) in the Mission, Bernal, and SOMA; there are scattered Warren signs in many neighborhoods, but not a huge number; Mayor Pete's signs are quite prominent in Folsom Gulch; and I noted a lone Bloomberg sign in Pacific Heights.

It's not that enthusiasm for dumping Trump is low. I spent some time yesterday calling people who've signed up with Seed the Vote to go work in Arizona and Nevada next October to elect whoever emerges from the primary.  These folks will be ready to go. We all have to be.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Not enough fewer yet; this is the season of anxiety before we engage

All sighted in San Francisco, all gone.
So Bernie won New Hampshire, barely; Mayor Pete and Senator Amy charged forward -- and nothing is much clearer. Can Bernie attract more voters beyond his hard core base? Possibly -- but given the fractured field in there with him, he also might be able to win the nomination without growing that base much. Others think they might have a shot -- and several might. The primary will lumber on ....

WAAAAA!! I think that's about where many, many, loyal, eager citizens who want dump Trump are coming to. We're fired up and the process tamps us down. We want an "electable" candidate whatever that means, but we're prepared to just get on with it as soon we someone is selected.

I went to a candidate house party over the weekend. What I saw was above all anxiety. Fear of a Trump re-election is so high that people have trouble choosing a candidate. They just want the nomination over. They don't want the responsibility for this part. I don't think that means they won't be there, at least to vote, in the fall. But this is stale and adds to our unease.

Jennifer Palmieri worked communications for the Hillary Clinton campaign. She reported from Iowa::
“The voters were so lost. They didn’t have any orientation, no grounding. . . . They felt paralyzed by this choice.”
From New Hampshire, Claire Malone from FiveThirtyEight saw something similar:
It’s not exactly an exuberant spirit that’s moving through the Democratic electorate right now, but rather a business-like frenzy to decide what their best course of action is.
One of Josh Marshall's correspondents echoes the sentiment:
If you’re a Democrat, the Democratic primary race is exhausting and demoralizing ...
We need to take a deep breath.

We should be encouraged that all the Democratic leaders remaining in the field generally poll ahead of Trump. Yes, Trump will be his crazy, vicious, cheating self, abusing whoever gets the nod. And yes, if we back off, he'll win. But if we do the work, this campaign is winnable. When an election is this closely balanced, that's all we can promise ourselves, but it's not nothing.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

While waiting to hear from New Hampshire voters ...

I tend to think I know a good amount about electoral demographics, but this was news to me. An awful lot of these proverbially gritty Granite State voters are newcomers to the primary.

University of New Hampshire demographer Ken Johnson calculates that since the last election, about 195,000 of the state’s 1.1 million voters have departed — either from the state (150,000) or from this mortal existence (45,000). They’ve been replaced by about 230,000 fresh faces, including 70,000 young people who became newly eligible and 160,000 outsiders who moved in.

For one in five voters, this will be their first presidential primary in the state, according to Johnson’s latest calculations. Most of the state’s 2020 primary voters wouldn’t have been eligible to vote in 2008, when Hillary Clinton eked out a win over Barack Obama.

States where many people are newcomers present different challenges and opportunities than more stable places. These new voters usually don't know anything about the down ballot candidates -- not an issue in a presidential primary but a large one in the general election. This knowledge gap which can make some people doubt they should vote at all. We saw this in 2018 in Nevada which, as the map shows, is the most transient state of all. New people also may not know the local rules and procedures about voting, the mechanics. Canvassers can get a leg up just by helping out with information. If the canvassers themselves are not locals (and sometimes even if they are), they need to learn accurate answers to questions about voting rules.

Empathetic journalism

Let's celebrate -- and support -- the Mission's hyper-local news source. We are very fortunate in this resource.

Monday, February 10, 2020

A proposed national budget is revealed

So the Trump administration has proposed a budget. I can't imagine DJT has much idea what's in it. But there it is. I'm not bothering to read about it because all budgets -- even those from presidents I like better -- are dead on arrival at Congress. The deals are cut in the House and Senate; that's where the budget action is.

But I can't resist passing along my favorite Pentagon reporter's slant on budget day. Here's Jeff Schogol:
Beloved readers: Monday is the most wonderful all days – budget day!

The Defense Department will unveil its part of the president's budget request. If you're a trade reporter, budget day is like Independence Day, Christmas, and the Super Bowl wrapped up in a crushing orgasm.

Your friend and humble narrator has covered quite a few of these budget rollouts over the years. Each time, this reporter asks himself the same question: "How the hell did I get through this last year?"

The answer is simple, really: Budget day is a smorgasbord of figures that have little bearing on reality because lawmakers will end up rewriting the budget to reward their constituents. Defense officials also spend hours speaking in tongues by using arcane acronyms like "POM." (A Program Objective Memorandum outlines defense spending for the next five years. Since that spans two election cycles, POMs are altered so many times that they become totally unrecognizable from their original form.)

One thing your friendly Pentagon correspondent has learned is there are two things you can write about on budget day: Toys and people. ...
Go read it all for a specific account of how each of the military service branch salivates over new annual offerings.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

There's more to primary history than they are telling

Over the last week I've listened to three podcasts explaining how we came to our present strange and convoluted process for picking a presidential candidate. I'd recommend all of them: 538 Primaries Project, The Weeds: How we pick a president, and On the Media. Everyone agrees there's nothing particularly rational about it; what we do is a product of historical accident and accretion, generally in the direction of more popular participation and less elite control.

As somebody who has lived through and watched most of this evolution, all three of these shows felt as if they had left a huge hole their accounts. In the first half of the 20th century, coming out of the Progressive era, parties and states held more and more primaries -- but most were beauty pageants, creating no particular hold on delegates to the party conventions -- and also no stop to political bigwigs choosing candidates in private meetings. As late 1960, John F. Kennedy famously had to run in and win primaries -- not to capture delegates, but to show the men who mattered that a Catholic could win Protestant votes. So he did.

But although the Kennedy assassination in 1963 had made his Vice President Lyndon Johnson an incumbent and thus there were not contested primaries in 1964, in that year a popular uprising threw the nominating process into chaos -- and set the stage for the tumultuous convention of 1968 which in turn led directly participatory primaries and killed off nomination from the "smoke-filled room."

Ms. Hamer
Nineteen-sixty-four was the height of the struggle by African Americans to overturn Jim Crow laws and practices that effectively prevented Black people from voting in the states of the former Confederacy. The center of that struggle was in Mississippi. Mississippi was a one party state -- in those days a Democratic one.

When Blacks had attempted to vote in state government primaries the previous year (1963), they were turned away, harassed and intimidated. Organizers from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee including Bob Moses and Mississippi stalwart Fanny Lou Hamer organized an unofficial, but enthusiastic, "Freedom Ballot" in competition with the fall election. Some 80,000, mostly Black, Mississippians participated, demonstrating demand for the right to "One Person, One Vote" for all adults.

The next year brought further struggle for the right to vote. In the spring, the entire Civil Rights coalition grabbed the attention of the nation with the Freedom march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Meanwhile organizers toiled on in Mississippi. They created the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to compete with the "regular" --all white -- state Democratic party. They continued to work to register Black voters. Just before the Mississippi regular state party convention in August, the bodies of three voting registration workers -- James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman -- turned up in a swamp, murdered for their efforts.

The MFDP attended the national Democratic convention, demanding the delegate seats that would have been allocated to the segregated regulars. The Democratic National Committee tossed this controversial hot potato to a credentials committee. In those days, unscripted television sometimes emerged from political conventions. TV broadcast and rebroadcast Ms. Hamer's speech:
All of this is on account we want to register, to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives are threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings in America?
Johnson and party honchos stonewalled. The MFDP was not seated, despite pointing out that the regular Mississippi Democrats were going to bolt the party anyway for fear of Black equality. They were right. The almost all white Democratic electorate voted for Republican Barry Goldwater over Johnson that year, beginning the state's shift to the Republican column.

The 1964 affair of the MFDP brought the inequities of the party nominating system out into the open. In 1968, there was no Democratic incumbent because the movement against our war in Vietnam had made it impossible for Lyndon Johnson to run again. A wide open race was fought over the direction of the party in primaries; the ranks of insurgent antiwar organizers for both Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy (assassinated midway through) were inspired by and full of veterans of the Civil Rights struggle. Johnson and party bigwigs still had enough clout to foist Hubert Humphrey on the Chicago convention, but only in conditions of literal rioting and police repression.

Our current primary system with binding votes in states for delegates who actually make binding choices of the nominee in the national convention came out of the disruption it took to win the vote for Black people. Trying to tell the history of the primary system without an awareness of that is a telling historical omission -- simply wrong factually and morally.
Something else historically false we're seeing in current primary punditry is also worth noting. We keep being told to understand that Trump could be re-elected because incumbents usually are, that since 1945 only Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and G H W Bush had failed re-election. True. But it seems worth noting that another incumbent who loved being President decided not run for re-election; Lyndon Johnson dropped out because the force of the antiwar movement made another term seem untenable. This is shocking to think about -- and we were certainly shocked at the time that a seemingly immovable obstacle to peace was gone ... Struggle is long.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

From my clutter to your consideration: intriguing items

Material that I'll never get around to discussing more deeply that might interest someone:
  • Dylan Matthews has written an earnest effort to untangle ... Joe Rogan, Bernie Sanders, and the hidden moral philosophy of American politics. He assigns people expressing blanket revulsion about Bernie's acceptance of endorsement by the woman-hating, racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, and transphobic podcaster to the deontological ethical camp. However he reminds us that a consequentialist ethics would allow and applaud Bernie for accepting the endorsement of such a potent cultural figure.

    Living with Erudite Partner, who is an academic ethicist, I've learned at little to think within these useful ethical constructs. I believe that if we don't take a rigidly deontological position on racism and for women's humanity (in which I subsume all the homophobic and transphobic stuff), white people, and especially white men, will never get it. Sometimes you have to hit people upside the head.

    However, as someone who has long worked in elections and mass social movements, I can go very consequentialist on occasion. To move a lot of people in a generally good direction, you have to take what you can get. And it would be crazy -- and wrong -- not to.

    I agree with Matthews that "these are not just disputes about the facts." When we engage, we're tempted to pretend our responses to ethical conundrums arise from realities we believe are unquestionable, rather than from arguments we make up to confirm our underlying assumptions. We need to take ourselves with a grain of salt.

    But I'm just a pretty comfortable, seasoned, old white dyke, still truckin' toward a better world. What do you think?
This newcomer, the Salesforce tower, looms over Potrero Hill. It's sure not a transient.
  • Carl Nolte provides a graceful exploration of a perennial question in this ever-changing city: How long does it take for a newcomer to become a San Franciscan? He characterizes many of our current neighbors like this:
    ... temporary San Franciscans: tech workers, the gig economy workers, here to make their fortune or to have a great time in a boomtown, and then move on. It’s as if they have double-parked in this most transient of cities.
    I suspect he's on to something here, especially if raising children is in these folks' future. Even tech jobs won't pay enough to allow that to go forward up to middle class standards. But there are other relative newcomers whose lives he explores ...
  • Just for the heck of it, I think this is a good ad for the upcoming primary. Do you?

Friday, February 07, 2020

Trump campaign serves notice it will contest Nevada

Donald Trump has spoken - well, actually tweeted.

President Trump with one single tweet appeared to reverse his administration’s support of entombing dangerous radioactive material under the Yucca mountain.

Just nine months away from the 2020 election, Trump tweeted that he opposed the nuclear waste repository in the remote highlands of Nevada, a state Republicans hope to turn red after years of trending toward Democrats.

Trump backs down from building nuclear waste site in Nevada

Preventing their lovely desert from being made the nation's sacrificial dumping ground for a struggling nuclear power industry is as close as you can find to a consensus opinion in the Nevada's politics. No candidate wants to run on an agenda of polluting the state.

And so the Donald has backed off -- when anyone points out the flip-flop, he'll just lie about it. The electric companies salivating to build nuclear plants will have to wait until after November.

But opposing Yucca Mountain is a minimum bid for any politician in Nevada. No Democratic presidential candidate should take winning the state for granted. It's going to take focus and work.

Friday cat blogging

Morty turns away disdainfully from tormenting Carly the playful pit bull. No, he's not going out to play. I have no notion what would happen if they could get at each other and don't intend to find out.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Court found Arizona voting laws discriminate on basis of race

Arizona will be one of the vital battlegrounds in this fall's presidential election. For decades it was deeply conservative, home-base to some of the country's most extreme right wingers. But these days, it's getting bluer as the population becomes less solely white and more diverse. The state's Republican legislators have responded to what they experience as a threat in the usual GOPer way: they have enacted measures to make it harder for people of color to vote at all -- and also harder to make sure their votes are counted.

In late January, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals banned a couple of these dodges. According to Slate's Mark Joseph Stern the court was forthright:

Arizona Republicans’ recent crackdown on voting rights was motivated by racism. The court invalidated a law that was plainly designed to stop Native American, Hispanic, and black voters from casting a ballot—not just because it happened to burden minorities more than whites, but because it is flat-out racist.

Arizona’s “long history of race-based voting discrimination,” combined with legislators’ “false, race-based” claims of voter fraud “unmistakably reveal” an intent to discriminate on the basis of race, the 9th Circuit announced.

The law in question created a policy that if duly registered voters dropped off their ballot at a precinct other than the one to which they were assigned, their ballot would be "provisional" -- and the practice was simply to throw those votes out. All of them.

From 2008 to 2016, Arizona discarded 38,335 OOP [Out Of Precinct] ballots cast by registered voters, exponentially more than any other state.

Voters’ assigned polling places change constantly, even month to month, and those assignments can be suspiciously inconvenient. Some polling places are located at the very edge of a precinct, and many citizens live closer to a different polling place within their precinct—at which they nonetheless are forbidden to vote.

This system places a heavy burden on people of color. In 2016, for example, the rate of OOP voting in Pima County was 150 percent higher for Hispanics, 80 percent higher for blacks, and 74 percent higher for Native Americans than for white voters. Across the state, racial minorities voted OOP at twice the rate of whites.

Why so many OOP ballots in the first place? Arizona election authorities have been vigorously closing polling places since the state was released from Voting Rights Act oversight by the Supreme Court's 2013 Shelby County decision. This has created particular burdens for older disabled people and the residents of Arizona's extensive Native American reservations.

The number of polls in Arizona has dropped by the hundreds since 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the federal Voting Rights Act, including oversight of election laws in Arizona and eight other states. ...Arizona had 400 polling locations in 2005; today, it has only 60, said Darrell Hill, Arizona’s policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union [in a Congressional hearing].

[Stephen] Lewis, [governor of the Gila River Indian Community,] said Election Day is treated as a family tradition for Native Americans in Arizona. It is an opportunity for families to catch up on politics and demonstrate to their young ones why voting is important. ... But Native Americans living in rural areas face a slew of obstacles, whether with mail-in ballots or voting in person.

“Tribal cards do not include addresses, do not have standard county addresses, and many tribal members do not receive mail at their homes,” [Navajo Nation President Jonathan] Nez said.

“Sometimes up to five families have to share a single P.O. box.” ... “There is no public transportation here on the reservations. In some parts of the Navajo Nation, only 1 in 10 families owns a vehicle,” said Nez said.

For the moment, the federal courts have corrected some of the racial barriers that Arizona Republicans have thrown up against voting. But these decisions can be appealed to a U.S. Supreme Court now packed with justices who have shown little concern for the rights of people of color. It remains to be seen whether the 9th Circuit decision will survive review.

On a more positive note, the struggle of Arizonans of all colors for more fair election administration should have gotten a boost from the result of the 2018 election: for the first time since 1995, the state elected a Democratic Secretary of State, the officer who oversees the election system. Elections can have consequences. Step by step ...

I am working with Seed the Vote on sending California volunteers to work with Arizona community groups on the November election -- so I'll be sharing what I learn about the state's elections here.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

#Rejectthecoverup San Francisco

A determined crew called together by Indivisible, Move On, and others rallied at the cable car turnaround on Wednesday to protest spineless Republican Senators cowering in terror at the tweets of Dear Leader.

Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump's enabler and enforcer in the Senate, caught some of the crowd's wrath.

No doubts here that Trump's partisan acquittal is an assault on democracy itself.

These days, the whole catalogue is just too long.