Thursday, February 11, 2016

World torture approval

The Buenos Aires Herald reports: Argentines have world’s lowest tolerance for torture. Three Latin American countries included in the survey, Argentina, Venezuela and Chile, had plenty of experience with torture in the 1970s and '80s -- often led by U.S.-trained military officers -- and have consciously put a distance between their current regimes and prior practices. It is good to see Indonesia, Russia and Ukraine in the same low-torture-approving cluster. Again, these are nations with all too much experience.

According to Pew, the “US public is among the most likely to consider torture justifiable: 58 percent say this, while only 37 percent disagree. There are only five nations in the survey where larger shares of the public believe torture against suspected terrorists can be justified: Uganda (78 percent), Lebanon (72 percent), Israel (62 percent), Kenya (62 percent) and Nigeria (61 percent).”

... support for torture within the United State is hardly uniform. The research centre found that “nearly three-in-four Republicans (73 percent) think torture can be justified against people suspected of terrorism, compared with just 58% of independents and 46 percent of Democrats. Similarly, 69 percent of conservatives say it can be justified, while 59 percent of moderates and 43 percent of liberals agree.”

Nonetheless the ideological divide is not unique to the United States. Pew wrote that “ideological divisions on this issue are not unique to the US. In all five Western European nations surveyed, people on the political right are more likely than those on the left to believe their government could be justified in using torture.”

We're both outliers, and not that unusual.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Good man down


I was stunned to learn yesterday of the passing of Ibrahim Farajajé. I did not know this brilliant, mischievous teacher well, but I always appreciated his smile and his energy when we crossed paths. Back in the day, before he converted to Islam and when he was an Orthodox Christian priest (as Elias Farjaje Jones), he led the most inspiring Easter vigil celebration in which I've ever taken part.

You can read more about Ibrahim at this link.

This video catches some dimensions of why he was important to so many; he will be missed.

A new season

No, not only the welcome transition from Football to Not-Football, but also the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. We are entering, again, an annual period given over to examining our human mortality, our human frailty, and that, inexplicably, that the God-Person affirms it's gonna be alright.

Naturally, theologians try to explain the inexplicable and so offer reflections for the season. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, takes a swing at this difficult target in Meeting God in Paul. Less than 100 pages, this little volume assembled from lectures delivered at Cambridge in 2015 looks at the Apostle Paul's "social world," his "disturbing idea," and his "Christian universe."

For liturgical Christians, there are particular obstacles to the project of making Paul come alive. We hear his letters (epistles) read every week in snippets, become familiar with these bits, but seldom think of his "theology" as a whole -- if, indeed, it is accurate to call "theology" the often practical reflections of someone who was propagandizing a novel, blinding, direct experience of God to noisy, fractious communities.

Williams tries to put across how startling was Paul's central message in this rendering of the letter to the church in Ephesus (which Williams concedes may have been written by a follower of Paul):

'Now at last,' he says, 'we have got the point. The penny has dropped. The secret that has been hidden from before the world was created has been made clear.' And what is the secret? That God is already determinedly and lastingly in love with ... Creation. That's the secret, and now it is out there in the plain light of day.

This puts me in mind of a line from the opening prayer of the Ash Wednesday service that marks the beginning of Lent:

God hates nothing that God has made ...

For an academic theologian, Williams is wonderfully readable. For example, this:

Why is there a world? Because God is that kind of God. Why are we able to give thanks to God? Because God is that kind of God. Why can we be confident that we have reconciliation and absolution for our failures and sins? Because God is that kind of God, the God whose form and face we see in Jesus.

You can find this gobbledegook, or you can, as I do find it rich material for cogitation, the right stuff for "the observance of a holy Lent" as today's service enjoins.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

John McCain denounces GOP torture ardor on Fox

If all goes according to the polls, the Donald will win big in New Hampshire today. He has made it clear: he's all for some waterboarding and he'll "bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding." Some large fraction of citizens of the "Live Free or Die" state apparently think that's a great idea.

Nice to see that the crochety Arizona Senator is repulsed.

"Do we want to be on the same plane as people who are chopping off heads?"

H/t Digby.

New Hampshire primary day

Time to bring this cup out. I assume every contestant seeking New Hampshire votes today has shaken hands at this place.
Charles Pierce provides an insight into the Democratic primary and Hillary Clinton's ongoing positioning in our politics that I think captures something true. Since Bill Clinton's presidency, the trajectory of US history has taken some big turns:
... there [were] two huge intervening events: One was the debacle of the Iraq War, and the other was the economic vandalism that came to light in 2008. Neither of those ever was properly litigated by the proper institutions. So, they get litigated in our politics.

In 2008, fairly or unfairly, [Democrats] litigated the Iraq War by hanging it around HRC's candidacy. There's more than a little evidence that, this time around, fairly or unfairly, they're litigating the near-destruction of the economy the same way. That's a tough albatross to shake.
She's not doing herself any favors by embracing the albatross of Madeleine Albright -- the Bill Clinton-era Secretary of State who famously allowed as how killing half a million Iraqi children was "worth it."

Nonetheless, this remains true:

Monday, February 08, 2016

A serious envisioning of reparations for African Americans?


Facing a chorus of condescending criticism from liberal pundits who ought to think harder, Ta-Nehisi Coates recently linked to a paper on the practicalities reparations, how these might actually work for African Americans whose lives are impoverished and constrained by the US history of slavery, oppression, violence and Jim Crow. I decided to read it and share.

Coates has made his case for reparations in 2014 in this article. It's worth reading.

Critics of reparations like to say or imply something like -- well, yes, reparations might be a good idea, but there are so many unanswered questions. Economists William A. Darity and Dania Frank identify four conundrums which could be clarified if we'd try.
  • How to determine who would be eligible? After all, if being African-American might get you something material, wouldn't there be a rush to affirm an ancestry that some people had been denying? They answer:

    we provide two criteria for eligibility: first an individual would have to provide reasonable documentation that they had at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States; and, second, an individual would have to demonstrate that, at least ten years before the onset of the reparations program, they self-identified as black, African-American, colored or Negro on a legal document.

  • What sort of reparations programs could there be? How should benefits be distributed? Darity and Frank list many possibilities: "lump sum payments," a "trust fund" making grants for asset building programs like home ownership, "vouchers" that could be used for asset building such as additional education, or "in kind promises" guaranteeing schooling beyond high school or medical insurance, or payments to build "entirely new" black community institutions to promote "collective well-being." There is a wide menu of possiblities.
  • Where's the money going to come from? Financing could come from taxes or government borrowing. Daritty and Frank note:

    In general African Americans should not bear the tax burden of financing their own reparations payments. Blacks paid local, state and federal taxes for more than eighty years while being disenfranchised in the U.S. South ....

  • How large should reparations payments be? Darrity and Frank present various estimates of the wealth to white Americans extracted from slavery and subsequent exploitation of black individuals. They come up with numbers in the trillions of dollars and conclude

    the damages to the collective well-being of black people have been enormous and, correspondingly, so is the appropriate bill.

Hardly anyone thinks reparations are on the national agenda right now -- but no compensation for prolonged injustice is going to happen unless we can think seriously about what it would mean. We did manage to pay some reparations to Japanese Americans dispossessed and locked in concentrations camps during World War II. Toward African Americans, apologies are a start; even inadequate material amends would be better.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

A Super Bowl recalled


I remember that game. Super Bowl XXII in 1988 between the Washington [Racial Slurs] and the Denver Broncos was the year of the hype about the first time a contending team was led by a Black quarterback. There was no question who I was rooting for: the presence of Doug Williams decided that.

Sportswriter Peter King interviewed Williams for his pre-SuperBowl essay this year, asserting that Williams' leadership of Washington to 35 points in the second quarter might be the greatest quarter in the history of the often snooze worthy final game. Williams offers a play-by-play of that 15 minutes, 18 plays in five drives -- and much more.

“Let me tell you this: In my whole life playing football, that was absolutely the best practice week I’ve had. Coaches had to call us off each other. We were so physical, and so ready. They didn’t want anyone to get hurt during the week. We knew we were ready.

“Late in the first quarter we were down 10-0, and I hyperextended my knee. They had just put new turf in at the stadium, and I guess there was a section that was damp, because the sun hadn’t really hit it, and my right foot slid out from under me. I was laying on the turf and the trainers came out. But I said, ‘Don't touch me. If I can walk, I am gonna finish the football game.’...

“I don’t consider there was any pressure on me that day. I always figured I wasn’t going to ever put pressure on myself to perform, so I certainly wasn’t going to get anyone else put pressure on me from the outside world. But I did understand what was at stake. I wasn't gonna play this game because I was a black quarterback. I was playing this game because I was the quarterback of the Washington Redskins who happened to have earned the job quarterbacking in the Super Bowl.

“I was very much aware of the atmosphere around the game. I grew up in Louisiana during segregation. The street where I grew up runs from Baton Rouge to Mississippi. There were two intersections, a crossroads. And every Friday night, there was a cross burning at that intersection. That’s just the way it was. The Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan lived a few miles from where I lived. Integration didn’t happen until my ninth grade year, and even when I got to high school, it was still mostly black because the white kids who should have gone to the school got pulled out and went to private school. I only played with two white guys in high school. But basically I never worried about it. Then when I went to Grambling, coach Rob [Eddie Robinson] never preached black and white. He was only about the American flag. I don’t know anyone, ever, who could out-American Eddie Robinson. Anyway, with coach Rob, it was all about performance. ...

“At halftime, we’re up 35-10, and Buges [offensive line coach Joe Bugel] comes to me and says, ‘Hey, Stud’—that’s what he always called me—‘Hey Stud, I think we got this. You don’t need to come back with that knee.’ I told him, ‘I started this game, and I’m gonna finish it.’ My knee had really stiffened up. But the doctors got out their needle, and we did what we had to do, and we got the job done.

“We traveled the road less traveled and won the Super Bowl. After the game there was nothing to say. The game itself was the best statement.”

Now I had two questions for Williams.

Does this quarter get enough attention as the best quarter in Super Bowl history?

“No, but there’s not anything I can do about that. It’s not my job to blow my own horn. You control what you can control.”

Have you ever wondered whether it would be more celebrated if John Elway scored 35 points in one quarter?

Williams chuckled. He paused. Long pause.

“That’s the only answer you’ll get from me on that.”

Full story here.

Washington defeated Denver by 42-10; Williams was voted the Most Valuable Player. After his professional career ended, Williams went on to coach football at Grambling and much later to work in the Washington team's front office.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Campaigns run on filled stomachs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 05, 2016

Where they stand on the death penalty


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last night the two candidates discussed the issue directly:

Friday cat blogging

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

Thursday, February 04, 2016

#TackleHomelessness -- send the Super Bowl home

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

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

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

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

... as well as 49er fans.

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

San Francisco Chronicle, 2/3/2016

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

... complete with their armored golf cart.

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

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

They just don't get it ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Demographic divisions

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

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

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

Census demographers spelled this out in 2012:

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

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

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