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Sam PF's Journal Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Sam PF" journal:

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November 11th, 2016
12:19 am

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Fighting Fascism with data
There are a lot of narratives about why Trump won. It's racism. (Almost certainly). It's misogyny (ditto). It's anger by the white working class at declining economy and lost manufacturing jobs. (Maybe). It's a desire to give a big up yours to the system (probably). It's a reaction to political correctness. (Sceptical).

Likewise, there are two major counter-narratives: that we need to understand, reach out to and empathize with Trump supporters; and that, no we don't, or at least we don't need to 'understand their concerns' as if they're poor victims, rather than people with deep racist instincts angry at the perceived dilution of their privilege.

I tend to agree with the latter, except I think we clearly do need to understand Trump supporters, what's driving people to vote for him, and why there were enough people choosing to vote for him in exactly the right states.

I've seen the exit polls, the breakdown by all sorts of demographic indicators, race, gender, age, income, education, etc. Also plenty of articles with data on predictors of Trump support: authoritarianism, implicit racial bias, etc., articles supporting and opposing the idea that economic decline is a factor.

But these all leave so many questions. One of the key ones is, what is the interplay between racism and economics? It seems pretty damned obvious that racism is a factor behind Trump support. But racism is not exogenous; what social circumstances tend to lead to higher levels of racism? Trump has galvanized and empowered racism that was already there, but what factors have led to this strategy gaining him votes in the particular places he needed them.

There is a lot missing from the exit poll data. Like, the breakdown by income shows Clinton getting majorities among people of lower income and Trump of higher income, going against the economic anger theory. But, given that people of colour have lower average incomes, does this pattern hold when restricted to white voters? We know white voters without college degrees voted for Trump much more strongly than those with, and of course college degrees correlate with higher income, but it does not thereby follow that low income among whites correlates with Trump support.

Then again, how does the income distribution of Trump support among whites compare with the income distribution of previous Republican support among whites? Traditionally, I think, lower income whites have been more likely to vote Democrat than high income. So the question is not just are they still more likely to vote Democrat, but, is the income correlation with voting among whites stronger or weaker than before? What has happened to the relative propensity of lower income whites to vote Dem compared to upper income, from previous elections to this one?

In particular, what is the source of the increase in relative Trump vote compared to McCain and Romney? The people who voted Obama but now voted Trump, who voted Obama but now stayed at home or voted 3rd party, the people who stayed at home but now Voted Trump?

Racism is clearly a huge factor behind Trump support. But racism was almost certainly correlated with support for previous Republican candidates. It has been at least since Nixon's Southern Strategy. Trump got the support of the great majority of (self-identified or registered) Republicans, Clinton got the support of the great majority of Democrats, so the fact that racism is correlated with Trump support doesn't tell us much about the relationship between relationship and Trump's gain in support (in relation to the Democrat opponent) compared to previous candidates. (In fact Trump got less votes in absolute terms, as I understand it, than Romney or McCain, but while Clinton beat Trump in popular vote by 0.2% so far, maybe 1-2% when all the votes are in, Obama beat McCain by over 7 and Romney by 3.9.)

Some of Trump's largest gains relative to Clinton in vote share, compared to the 2012 election, were in the Mid-West, certainly if one considers swing states. (Which includes virtually all the Mid-West). By contrast, the Clinton vote held up relatively well in Southern swing states or near swing states.

What I'm possibly getting at is that it could be true both that racism is the key predictor of Trump support, and that a key factor of Trump's victory—the people who switched to him, the people who stayed at home having previously voted for Obama, and so on—is anger at economic decline and a system that has failed the working class. (Not to say race isn't still a factor. But maybe, say, the more racist people turned out for Trump, while people who were put off by Trump's racism but angry at the system stayed at home instead of voting Clinton. Maybe).

I say this could be the case, but we need better, more granular, data.

None of this changes the fact that Trump's victory has enthused and empowered racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and much else, and that these forces need to be vigorously opposed, not empathized with. That is the priority. But we also need to understand what went wrong, and what strategies can reverse it; what, for example, is going to help the white working class people in rural, small town and suburban communities, who didn't vote for Trump, reach out to at least some of their neighbours who did and offer a better alternative? I think that is a much better question than the one that is often asked, how can 'we' (implicitly right-thinking but guilt-ridden middle-class educated urban liberals) 'reach out' to 'Trump supporters' in the abstract.

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November 9th, 2016
02:31 am

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All you Fascists
The world is entering its second Fascist era.

The absolute number one priority now is to fight this new Fascism. All other ideological differences, be you socialist, communist, anarchist, scoial democrat, liberal, neoliberal, moderate conervative, all these are secondary.

I do not know how to fight it. Although I have some limited experience on what might be called the front lines, it was toes in the water, and for the most part I am an elitist middle-class London/Stockholm/Massachusetts liberal. But we are all going to have to learn fast.

We have one advantage, which is the knowledge of how things played out last time, so that maybe we can avert the very worst of it.

One thing I would say - do not put your trust in senators, or judges, or constitutions, or (hollow laugh) the international system, or any of the august established institutions of authority to hold the dark forces in check. They will all melt away when the right incentives are found. None of the normal rules can be assumed to apply. If they did, we would not be where we are today. It is on all of us to find new ways.

It is a different and darker world we wake up to. But if we survive this, we get to try again.

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November 8th, 2016
03:16 pm

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Worst case scenario
So what do we do if Trump wins? The odds are against it, but not that much against it. Not something we want to think about, but probably eaier to think about now than in the immediate miasma of despair.

There's some obvious answers: "Don't mourn, organize". Resist, build solidarity, seek to maintain compassion and hope.

But what specifically? What would be the best ways to stand by the people most vulnerable to Trump's attacks? What battles can be realistically fought with some hope of at least fending off some of the worst? What should the top priorities be?

(Of course many of these questions are still valid if Clinton wins, but the answers are probably very different).

What about for people outside the USA? A Trump Presidency would affect the whole world of course; questions of war and peace, climate change, etc. If the US pulls out of the Paris accords as Trump has promised, what can the rest of the world do, and what can its citizens do to push their governments?

I suspect that in the US the priority is probably simply resisting fascism, resisting the destruction of democracy, standing up for minorities and immigrants, against attacks on the press, activists, civil society, opposition politicians, even fighting to keep Hillary Clinton out of jail. Because if the battle against fascism is lost, so are all others until the wheel turns again.

This is still short on detail.

Meanwhile hoping to God that this question remains hypothetical.

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12:14 am

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Doomsday Eve
There's a sci-fi film I saw on TV as a kid, of the Earth-to-be-destroyed-by-giant meteor variety, I can't remember the name of the film or the nature of the calamity, and for once will abstain from Googling. Anyway, there's a last throw of the dice effort by the brave sciencey heroes to do science and avert the catastrophe, and no-one knows if it's going to work. It's all in the public eye, and so there's this scene with a newsstand, and there's two piles of papers being delivered to it, one with the headline "EARTH SAVED" and the other with the headline "EARTH DOOMED".

That's kind of how it seems now.

Nate's a bit more optimistic just now than in the past few days, giving Clinton a 70.9% chance, when it had fallen as low as about 63% a few days ago, but those are still darned concerning odds. But I'm not going to speculate on what if this state or that, and shy Trump voters versus Hillary's ground game, because I've wasted far too much breath on that in the past and it's all irrelevant afterwards, vanity and chasing of wind.

Talking of Hillary's ground game, I've been part of it in the last few days. Doing some phone banking down at the Cambridge Dem office, first of all recruiting more volunteers, then calling voters in New Hampshire for Get Out The Vote. Saturday I was up in NH as part of a party from Cambridge, canvassing. I was with a friend, and we were paired with a driver, another British guy who's been living here 20 years. Used to run theatre tours to Britain for dramatically minded young Americans. Anyway, we went up to Rochester NH, a small town of about 30,000. The campaign office was buzzing with dozens of vols, so this ground game is really a thing. My little group was sent on a really rural turf, driving along leaf-covered tracks by a lakeside, where occasional clusters of houses could be found in clearings in the wood. One of the 'streets' was called 'Hideaway Lane', which was accurate.

We only managed to make contact with a handful of voters, but by God the scenery was gorgeous.

This also counted as my first American Road Trip, albeit a relatively short one.

This evening I was calling likely Dem voters in NH to GOTV , using a cunning app that robocalls numbers until it finds a live one, then puts it through to your phone, although half the time you get the click of someone hanging up. Mostly got positive responses, yep, we're voting Dem all the way down, one 'well she's the lesser evil' (I restrained myself from saying 'right there with ya'), but several "For Gods sakes stop calling me, this is the dozenth call", and one "If I get another call from you people I'm voting Trump!".

Is it possible to have too much ground game?

Seriously, it seems loads of people round here are doing stuff, in some cases phone banking from home using a thing on the Clinton website.

More tomorrow after work, which willl be mostly directed at points West. Then an election watch party with some friends, at which I can confidently project that a very large quantity of liquor will be consumed whatever happens.

Deliver us from Evil, O Lord. Or at least from the greater Evil. That'll have to do for now.

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October 22nd, 2016
07:18 am

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Shadow World
I was in New York last weekend, for the New York launch of the movie Shadow World, by Johann Grimonperez, based on the book, The Shadow World: inside the global arms trade, by Andrew Feinstein, who also worked extensively on the film. Andrew, as I've mentioned, is one of the people in the group I've been in, working with World Peace Foundation on their global arms project that I'm now running.

It was a very powerful film, extremely well put together. (It won Best Documentary at the Edinburgh Film Festival earlier this year). It is partly on the international arms trade, with some entertaining/revealing/horrifying interviews with a very candid arms broker (who apparently is now in prison in Portugal), but also, moreso than the book, on US wars and militarism more generally; but it manages to fuse these two elements together pretty well, with some apparopriate readings of his work by Eduardo Galeano interspersed. Not a whole lot that I wasn't aware of, though some things, but as I say well put together and effective in its impact.

Full disclosure: I am actually in it for about 15 seconds as a talking head. So now I am wondering if I have a Bacon Number. (I might already as I was in an episode of Mark Thomas Comedy Product). And if so if I have a Bacon-Erdos number, as I have co-authored one maths paper.

It is also a salient reminder that, for all that Obama has done that is praiseworthy, there is plenty on the foreign policy front that is pretty dismal, perhaps the drone wars in particular, and that he really only looks at all good when grading on a curve. And that Hillary promises to be worse. (Yes, still unimaginably better than the alternative).

There was a Q&A afterwards with Andrew and with Anna Macdonald of Control Arms, which went on way longer than scheduled, a lot of people with questions. And I was invited to give a brief spiel about the work we're doing at WPF and hand out fliers, to justify my train fare.

Anyway, the film is definitely recommended. It has apparently already had a 3-week run in London, don't know if it will be on anywhere else in the UK. We are still trying to organize a showing in Boston.

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July 26th, 2016
11:49 pm

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Lesser Evils
In the final round of the 2002 French Presidential election, leftists faced an insidious choice: the two remaining candidates were Jacques Chirac, of the mainstream right-wing party, the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR, Assembly for the Republic); and Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of the far-right, explicitly racist Front National (National Front).

France has a 2-stage Presidential election system: in the first round, there are many candidates – 16 in this case; but if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, there is a 2nd stage run-off between the top 2 candidates.

Usually, that will be someone from the main right-wing party [1], and one from the Socialists. But this time, with an even more divided left than usual with 8 parties standing [2], and partly as a result, the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin came narrowly 3rd behind Chirac and Le Pen.

Most of French society was horrified that a fascist like Le Pen could come so close to power. [3] What, though, was a Socialist or Communist voter to do faced with this ugly choice in the second round of a right-winger and a far-right-winger? Stay at home? Spoil their ballot paper? Or swallow their bile and vote for a candidate whose politics they detest (and with a bunch of corruption scandals from his time as mayor of Paris)?

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June 6th, 2016
05:45 am

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Transatlanticizing
Well, it's sufficiently official and generally known by all concerned that I can make it public.

I will be moving to Boston, Massachusetts in the autumn (or fall as I should get used to calling it), to work at the World Peace Foundation, based at Tufts University, as Project Manager for their programme on corruption in the global arms industry and trade. I start there at the beginning of October. I was in Boston earlier this week to meet with them and discuss details and ideas.

I have in fact been involved in this project for the past few years, as part of an international group of academics and civil society people convened by WPF to discuss these issues and produce various materials on the subject (there's a book coming out fairly soon, plus various internet tools). The group includes South African anti-corruption campaigner Andrew Feinstein, whose book on the arms trade, The Shadow World, has recently been made into a movie, which everyone should totally see when it hits the cinemas.

The idea of the programme has been to take a rather broad perspective on the issue of corruption, looking not only at financial corruption, but at how the global arms industry and trade, and the militarist ideologies behind it, can undermine democracy and the rule of law.

Anyway, so this project by WPF has been edging forward for the past few years, but now they are able to hire someone full time, that someone being me.

The position is for 2 years initially, potentially longer if more funds are raised; however, I am taking a 2-year leave of absence from SIPRI, so I will have the option of returning at the end of this 2-year period. I am therefore not technically leaving SIPRI at the present time, but will at any rate be gone for at least 2 years. If anyone wants to apply for my position at SIPRI working on military expenditure (again, 2 years initially), or knows someone who might be interested, the ad is here.

As to whether or not I will return in 2 years, well, a lot can happen in two years, so who knows? But it is good to have the option.

I am very excited by this. It is a really interesting project, and a really good bunch of people I'll be working with, and from all I hear (and the little I've seen so far from the meetings there of our group), Boston is a fantastic city.

I am already a US (as well as UK) citizen, but this will be the first time I have lived in the US, or indeed been there for more than a week at a time. So that too will be an interesting new experience.

I will also be sad to leave SIPRI, and will miss a lot of people there, not least my team, who are also a great bunch to work with. After the storms of 2 years ago, SIPRI is now on what seems to be moving in a very positive direction, so in some ways a strange time to be leaving; but I have been crunching the military expenditure numbers for long enough, and feeling it's been time for a change for quite a while; and this definitely feels like the right move at the right time.

(Well, except that we might have President Trump a few months after I move. But since there are no shuttles to Mars Colony any time soon, there's nowhere to escape the consequences that may bring.)

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April 5th, 2016
11:43 pm

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SIPRI military expenditure data release
Quick post, as I'm exhausted. Today was the big day of the year for my secret identity as Doctor Milex, when SIPRI released our new data on world military expenditure for 2015. Link is to the press release, which also has links to the fact sheet and the full database.

I also have an entry in the SIPRI blog discussing trends in military and health expenditure, and the costs of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in comparison to world military spending. Graphics, in particular the cool interactive line graph, courtesy of our new web editor.

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March 12th, 2016
07:54 pm

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Europe's shame
I have never been so ashamed to be a European. God knows we have a horrific colonial history, and in the modern age there's the whole Neocolonial economic relationship of rich countries with the developing world and so forth.

But it is particularly appalling to witness the utter betrayal of hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees on and within our borders. The utter craven cowardice, the hypocricy, the abandonment of compassion and solidarity, the collective washing of hands.

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And what is most shameful as a European, is that our governments are doing this in large measure in response to the views of the majority of their citizens. That even those, like in Sweden and Germany, who were more inclined to compassion and solidarity, have turned against the refugees. Cologne and Kungsträdgården were enough for that.

There are still those, so many, who help.The army of volunteers on Lesvos. Again, Al Jazeera has done some very good coverage of ordinary Greek people, despite their own grim economic circumstances, doing what they can to help through soup kitchens in Athens, providing food, clothing and blankets in Idomeni on the Macedonian border, and elsewehere. The Danish woman convicted of people trafficking for giving a lift and lunch to a family of refugees. So many helping across the continent in so many ways, big and small. These are signs of hope.

But those of us who favour compassion and solidarity towards refugees are, unfortunately a minority. Two weeks ago there were Refugees Welcome protests in 120 cities in 32 European countries. It is hard to find reports of them, apart from that one. I was at the one in Medborgarplatsen again, in Stockholm. But we were far, far, fewer. When Stefan Löfven flattered and lied to the crowds back in September, Medborgarplatsen was full to bursting. This time there was plenty of space, and only a part of the square filled. A few hundred maybe. It is good to have such events; but it is not enough.

I have never felt so ashamed to be a European.

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November 21st, 2015
01:29 am

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door"

These words always get me. For all that I am aware of the horrific, genocidal history of the USA, they still get me.

Once upon a time, a century and change ago, my ancestors were among the many millions of "wretched refuse", the "homeless, tempest-tost" arriving in the USA, Jews from Poland, Russia and thereabouts, fleeing the hatred and slaughter of the times.

I can only imagine how they must have felt as that statue came into view on the horizon, signalliing journey's end after months crammed on a hot, overcrowded deck. (Or maybe my great-great grandfather and his family had managed to save up loads of money from his inn in Łomża, sold the place for a good price before things got really bad, and had their own spacious cabin. Who knows?)

The country they came to was no paradise, and they would have faced all sorts of suspicion and prejudice, but they had a chance, and they were lucky enough to thrive. Likewise my dad's family, who came instead to Britain, a land of 'storied pomp' par excellence. No  paradise either, and my dad has told me some horrible stories of the anti-Semitism he faced as a child; but likewise a country that was spared the horrors of fascism, that proved a refuge and became a home.

This is my history. It is far from unique. It  is not even unusual. It is a story shared by hundreds of millions of us around the world.

For me, not just because of my own family history, but certainly reinforced by it, it seems self-evident that we, who are fortunate enough to have been born in lands enjoying relative freedom (for it is certainly no virtue of our own), should welcome to our shores those fleeing war, persecution and extreme poverty. "Will it make us richer or poorer?" "What if some of those who come are bad people?" They may be fair questions, but they should be very much secondary ones. At some level, I really find it hard to comprehend those who think otherwise.

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