Tag Archives: bay area

2017-When Powerful Predators Pay the Price

HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” opened its 2017 season on an interesting note. While the popular Emmy-winning news comedy show has never shied away from delivering scathing political commentary, its first main piece of the year was about how the newly-installed Commander-in-Chief, Donald J. Trump, is a dangerous machine of lies.  It’s a hefty and bold accusation for an entertainment show to make, even when you consider “Last Week Tonight” has affected some actual change (notably in net neutrality). Towards the end of the segment, Oliver pleaded with the media and the viewers to hold Trump and his team accountable for any misinformation they may spread and for the actions they commit. And if enough people push this position, real consequences might come.

Looking back, that segment almost feels like a foretelling of a theme of 2017: holding powerful men accountable for terrible deeds. Over the course of the past eleven months, we have seen many prominent and powerful men in many industries forced to face consequences for reportedly bad behavior — Travis Kalanick stepped down as UBER’s CEO, Harvey Weinstein was ousted from his film production company and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Warner Brothers studio has severed ties with director Brett Ratner, Fox News fired Bill O’Reilly, and just recently NPR’s Vice President of news and editorial director Michael Oreskes was placed on indefinite leave. All of these cases stem from one commonality: all the men ousted had been accused of sexual harassment and/or assault.

Continue reading

Taylor Swift tries to silence Popfront with cease and desist letter

A few weeks ago, PopFront published a piece about Taylor Swift and her alt-right, white supremacist fans. The piece dove into a history of white supremacy and eugenics and how those ideologies have played a role in the political discourse of this country. It compared the lyrics of Swift’s song “Look What You Made Me Do” and the chants at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville Virginia.

The end of the piece offered the following call to action:

“And while pop musicians are not respected world leaders, they have a huge audience and their music often reflects their values. So, Taylor’s silence is not innocent, it is calculated. And if that is not true, she needs to state her beliefs out loud for the world- no matter what fan base she might lose because in America 2017 silence in the face of injustice means support for the oppressor.”

PopFront is far from the first outlet that has noticed the connection between Taylor Swift and the alt-right. Vice, Konbini, and Complex are just a few news outlets that have written about Swift and the alt-right. Swift has very vocal alt-right fans that make public statements about their fandom and assign their ideology to hers on social media. There have been many stories about this connection in the past 18 months and our piece was an attempt to continue the discussion, as well as call on Swift to denounce this hateful group. The rise of the alt-right must be examined critically. It is unsettling to see Americans openly expressing racism. Celebrities are not obligated to voice their political beliefs, but it is not a stretch to assume that Swift would want to issue a statement even if it could be controversial.

We could not have imagined this article would result in Swift’s lawyer sending us a cease and desist letter. Taylor Swift is no doubt loved around the world and has many millions of dollars to show for her success. She is in a position of privilege that most people will never experience. She is also probably aware of the different social movements and issues that rocked America in the past year. And while it is unnecessary to expect all celebrities to be political commentators, many of her peers with similar influence have lent their voices to these affairs. Swift’s silence on the alt-right is especially notable because her white supremacist fans have taken the time to politicize her image. Taylor has historically demonstrated a concerted interest in how she is perceived by the public, so it would be in her interest to make a statement denouncing these groups or at least against racism and bigotry in general.

But instead of publicly making such a statement or publicly addressing her critics for failing to do so, Swift chose to privately employ legal threats and demand PopFront’s criticism disappear.  In a threatening letter, Swift and her lawyer demanded the story be immediately removed. This tactic can set a dangerous precedent because it would mean any public figure could chill any criticism levied at them. At a time when the press is under constant attack from the highest branches of government, this cease and desist letter is far more insidious than Swift and her lawyer may understand. The press should not be bullied by legal action nor frightened into submission from covering any subject it chooses. Swift’s scare tactics may have worked in the past, but PopFront refuses to back down because we believe the First Amendment is more important than preserving a celebrity’s public image.

PopFront has sought the help of the ACLU to address the demands made by Swift and her lawyer. The cease and desist letter, the ACLU response, and the original article that sparked this action are here.

We will not be silenced.

PopFront is a small online publication created in 2013 to discuss critical social, cultural, and political issues. We regularly critique and analyze the media with opinion-based pieces. PopFront fundamentally cares about intellectual integrity, facts, and truth. And most importantly, every PopFront piece serves to elicit discussion and hopefully inspire action. We will continue to provide high-quality critical pieces touching on social and political issues and build a diverse platform for people of all races, sexualities, genders, or neuroclassifications.

Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation

Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor Swift subtly gets the lower case “kkk” in formation with “Look What You Made me Do”
An anti–Marxist Mixtape review.

A little over a decade after her musical debut, Taylor Swift has made a career out of being portrayed as a good girl unjustly wronged. Her song catalog is stocked with tunes about how innocent she is, and how men seem to wrong her. But the most notable moment of the Taylor-as-an-innocent-victim narrative may have come when Kanye West interrupted her Best Female Video acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards to drunkenly ramble about how Beyoncé should have won.

Kanye upstaging Taylor in that moment not only gave that narrative merit in a lot of people’s eyes, it also looked like the personification of many a long-standing white fear: a black man taking away a white woman’s power. And Taylor has been playing off that narrative ever since, while America has embraced the notion of white victimhood — despite the reality. Kanye West is still hated for that moment, and the media has documented further fights between Taylor Swift and other pop stars such as Katy Perry, Calvin Harris, and Kim Kardashian. There is no shortage of media details about these “feuds”, whatever their purpose may be.

On the other hand, the idea that Taylor Swift is an icon of white supremacist, nationalists, and other fringe groups, seems to finally be getting mainstream attention. But the dog whistles to white supremacy in the lyrics of her latest single are not the first time that some have connected the (subtle) dots. A white supremacist blogger from neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer was quoted in a Broadly article in May 2016 as saying, “it is also an established fact that Taylor Swift is secretly a Nazi and is simply waiting for the time when Donald Trump makes it safe for her to come out and announce her Aryan agenda to the world.” What “facts” the blogger is pointing to are unclear (and likely invented); still, his statement exemplifies how neo-Nazis and white supremacists look to her as their pop icon.

Continue reading

Does this study prove SFBARF’s mission is puke?

You’ve probably heard the urban planning acronym NIMBY, which stands for Not In My Backyard. Often used in a pejorative sense (as in nimbyism), the word recalls the political sentiments of neighborhood groups—nominally, wealthier ones with more clout—to cease any local development or change whatsoever, regardless of social benefit. The term could be applied, for instance, to Marin County’s perpetual efforts to stop BART from running through their county (much-needed 40 years ago when first proposed) —motivated by racist fears of diluting their lily-white demographic.

Then there’s SFBARF, a citizen activist group that promotes YIMBYism—the counterfactual to NIMBY, i.e. a philosophy of “Yes In My Backyard.” A punk-sounding acronym for “San Francisco Bay Area Renter’s Federation,” SFBARF advocates for building more luxury homes and condos as a way of reducing the housing crunch on middle- and lower-income households in the Bay Area. To that end, they travel around the Bay Area and attend city council meetings, lobbying on behalf of developers.

Condo illustration

Does that sound confusing? Here’s the economic logic: lots of rich people want to move to the Bay Area, and they don’t necessarily want to live in poorer neighborhoods—but, they will if that’s all they can find. Better to keep building condos and luxury high-rises in wealthy areas, so as to keep the poor and middle-income neighborhoods for those who need them most.

Yet many Bay Area activists have called for SFBARF’s head, claiming that they’re a “faux-grassroots” group that only encourages developers, and poses as progressive. Is there any basis to that claim? Continue reading

The Great Santa Cruz Craigslist Rent Strike

Santa Cruz Rent Strike

Santa Cruz County has taken quite a bruising in terms of housing costs. Despite being an ill-advised commute to Silicon Valley and having a much more working-class constituency, Santa Cruz County is the fifth most expensive in the US for renters. This is even more remarkable considering that the southern parts of the county are primarily farmland, that at least 20,000 residents are university and community college students, and that there are few high-paying industries besides higher education.

Hence, there’s a deep question as to why housing is so expensive in Santa Cruz. One theory touted is that despite the more working-class constituency, housing is subject to inelastic demand. Since shelter is a requirement to merely survive, demand for it is divorced from market price changes. Yet “inelastic demand” feels like a free-market euphemism. Landlords do not have to explicitly collude, but know that they will be paid when they raise rents. Working people have no choice but to pay them—or, as both students and farmworkers often do, live 2 or even 3 to a bedroom.

Housing, unlike tea, pineapples or manicures, is not an optional expense, nor a commodity. Yet it is treated as such by investors and financiers. It is not recognized as a right. The need for housing can mean life or death, shelter or homelessness, for many people. So it is unsurprising that renters have strong feelings. But, how can renters, the large majority of us, fight back against a system that tells us housing is not a right?

One piece of evidence that the housing kettle has boiled over? Craigslist. Continue reading

#BlackLivesMatter: Find your local protest

Two grand juries that failed to indict police officers for the murder of unarmed black men—Mike Brown of Ferguson and Eric Garner of New York—have spurred to action a burgeoning movement against systemic racism and police violence in the United States. (Solidarity protests have since spread worldwide.)

The number and breadth of protests in any region is difficult to coordinate and organize, but we’ve found a number of resources for finding local protests in the Bay Area. (Note: This post will continue to update as new information is available.)

Sirron Norris: Murals With a Mission

San Francisco is a city of murals: from the Progressive Era to the waves of Latin American immigrants in the 1970s and 1980s, the city’s radical history lends itself well to splashes of life and color. By the time the Mission Muralismo movement peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, San Francisco was post-industrial, grimy, and full of artists and punks: in a sense, the perfect locale for a burgeoning graffiti and mural scene. Continue reading

Finding Fandom


When it comes to sports, calling me a fair-weather fan would probably be… well, fair. At the last Super Bowl party I attended, I announced my intent to leave after the next inning, to the chagrin of everyone around me. I was swiftly corrected, my colleagues seemingly less concerned over my departure than my attempt to count the innings in football. I’d thought it was simple: there were four. Continue reading

Nero Fiddles, Man Burns

Silicon Valley’s Great Be-In

In 1965, on the cusp of the counterculture movement, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organized the first “teach-in” at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In contrast to a lecture or symposium, the teach-in was oriented towards action; indeed, SDS’s goal was to teach about Vietnam and organize students against the war. Remarkably, thousands attended the teach-in, yet this paled in comparison to the tens of thousands who turned up a few months later at Berkeley for an anti-war teach-in that included a range of intellectual luminaries, including Norman Mailer, I.F. Stone and Alan Watts.

Continue reading

Love the Player, Hate the Game

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. 
By Tony Kushner
Directed by Tony Taccone
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, May 16–June 29

(l to r) At Berkeley Rep, Mark Margolis (Gus), Tina Chilip (Sooze), and Joseph J. Parks (Vito) in Tony Kushner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.” Photo courtesy kevinberne.com.

(l to r) At Berkeley Rep, Mark Margolis (Gus), Tina Chilip (Sooze), and Joseph J. Parks (Vito) in Tony Kushner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.” Photo courtesy kevinberne.com.

There is a phantom haunting the theater—the phantom of socialism. Look to the Bay Area theater scene, and you’ll notice an array of socialist playwrights and subject matters: Berkeley Rep just opened The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, its second definitively radical show, after Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. All of California Shakespeare Theater’s non-Shakespeare shows this season were written by socialists (Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun [read our review] and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion). The (Tony-winning) San Francisco Mime Troupe is avowedly far-left, but then they’ve always been. Remarkably, Shotgun Players just wrapped up a trilogy of Tom Stoppard plays about obscure Russian radical Alexander Herzen, “the father of Russian socialism” (I am unsure which is more shocking—that they decided to put up the entire trilogy, or that Stoppard’s yawn-worthy dialogue resulted in the trilogy’s run being extended).

Continue reading