Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Water for the city

The California drought may be over, but on World Water Day, it is good to know that our local water authority is thinking ahead. Amid the blizzard of verbiage that comes with the bill, there was this:

Smart, reliable, resilient and local: Groundwater for San Francisco
... Developing local groundwater can help diversify our supply portfolio and ensure we have a local source for water should a drought, earthquake or other disaster interrupt our Hetch Hetchy supply.

In March, 2017, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) will start pumping groundwater from the Westside Groundwater Basin aquifer that extends to approximately 400 feet below the surface in San Francisco. The groundwater will be treated and blended with our regional drinking water supplies before it is delivered to our customers. Over the next few years we will continue adding groundwater in order to reach our goal of blending 4 million gallons a day (mgd) of treated groundwater with our regional water supplies by 2020.

... On an average day the City of San Francisco – including our residents, businesses and visitors – will continue to rely primarily on the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System, a system that combines the resources of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir with 5 reservoirs in the Bay Area, for 60 million gallons of drinking water. Adding groundwater to our regional water supplies makes San Francisco’s water supply more reliable, particularly in the event of droughts and emergencies.

Who knew there was an aquifer there for the tapping under the Sunset District? It's easy to look at this and wonder -- is this a construction boondoggle for politically connected contractors? Well, maybe. But this city has added 150,000 residents since 1980. And new San Franciscans keep on coming, for all the congestion and crazy housing costs. Building some forward looking infrastructure seems a good idea.

Because everyone needs a clean place to take a dump

On this World Water Day, (an annual UN observance) can you help the 495 residents of the tiny rural town of La Rinconada, Nicaragua, achieve 100% sanitation coverage? That means everyone in the hamlet would have access to a clean latrine. Latrines reduce diarrhea, especially among children, and help keep well water unpolluted and safe to drink.

The community has pledged 10% of construction costs and to do all the labor, but they need materials.
  • $25 - fifteen bags of sand
  • $50 - seat & concrete slab
  • $150 - metal superstructure
  • $485 - 1 household double-pit latrine
Small sums that don't mean much to us in the U.S. can be sent along through El Porvenir, a partnership with rural Nicaraguan communities which has been doing this work for over 25 years. Please help if you can.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tools for resistance: on the lookout for fake news

In the time of Trump, the rest of us don't need to be passing around conspiracy theories. As smart media reporters have explained, the point of Trump's and his handlers' lies is not to replace truth with their falsehoods, but to persuade as many as possible of us that "everything is a lie."

This works better in a campaign than in governing. Reality bites in the real world. Running hard up against reality -- families broken by deportation, lost health insurance coverage, shuttered food stamp offices -- makes for painful encounters with undisguised truth.

Still, we can work not to play along with the disinformation environment. Let's leave the false stories to the other guys and strive to be sure that we are aren't buying into tales that just aren't so.

Several points:
  • If a headline grabs your attention -- and particularly if it is something that feeds your political assumptions -- CHECK around a little. Do you know the publication/site that it came from? Is any other well known source also reporting the story? The big newspapers and CNN have lots of faults, but they don't (usually, though occasionally they'll print a conspiracy fable-maker) run with completely unverified rumors. If something seems just too juicy, or too prejudicial, or too satisfying, to be true, it might be false, even in the age of Trump.
  • When you make yourself a source of information (say you write a blog), think hard about how you "know" what you "know." The American Press Institute describes an instructive, easily understood, "hierarchy of accuracy" that journalists can use before deciding to spread something around.

    Some facts, quotes, assertions and color are more reliable than others.

    The stuff that comes from an eyewitness is better than that which is second-hand.

    The stuff that you know for yourself is better than the stuff someone else supposedly checked out … or did they? ... Beware of the idea that you have to post a story because it’s “out there” — floating around.

  • Learn from others who are wrestling with evaluating stories for accuracy. Amnesty International has launched an international Digital Verification Corps working to

    blow the whistle on inauthentic materials depicting human rights violations. But equally important is our work at using advanced digital methods to curate reliable multimedia data that can be used to demand accountability for human rights atrocities. The relevance of this work cannot be overstated, especially in an era where everyone with a cell phone camera is a potential news reporter.

    This is an inspiring project.
WNYC's On The Media podcast pointed me to many of these references; Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield provide a regular reality check. #trypod

Monday, March 20, 2017

Judicial horrors

Because Neil Gorsuch is presentable -- he could probably be introduced to a suburban mother without acting like a thug -- it is unlikely Democrats will rise up to block his confirmation to the Supreme Court. It would take everything they've got and that isn't much. Sure, he's a stone conservative white man, perhaps slightly to the right of the dyspeptic curmudgeon he would replace, but they are likely to figure that at least Trump didn't nominate Steve Bannon to the court.

I'll be watching whether Democratic Senators raise two issues in hearings:
  • Torture: During the GW Bush administration, Gorsuch was one of the merry band of torture apologists at the Justice Department making up rationales for the divine right of the President to order whatever extra-legal measures he might like in his war on an adjective. It's going to be the supreme test of our legal system whether judges will constrain a runaway president who can always cook up a national "security" threat when he wants to justify something foul. My often disappointing Senior Senator, Diana Feinstein, is the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and, after being mistreated by the CIA herself when looking into abuses, has developed a bee in her bonnet about torture. So she might push for answers in this area.
  • Birthright citizenship: I don't know if any Democrat will raise this, but they should. Maybe Senator Maize Hirono of Hawaii could do it; it would be good to hear it from a person of color. The Trump/Bannon project of MAWA (Making America White Again) founders on the fact that anyone born in the country is automatically a citizen under current interpretations of Congressional citizenship statutes and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. A citizen is any "person born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof." But right wing legal activists hope that the application of this principle to children of undocumented immigrants could be ended by simple act of Congress, if concurred in by a sympathetic Supreme Court. They'll go there if they have a chance; the MAWA project is a desperation move, and fails so long as people of color can't be kept from citizenship whether by exclusion or voter suppression and/or incarceration. The great contemporary historian of the Reconstruction era when the US adopted birthright citizenship, Eric Foner, writes of birthright citizenship:

     The 14th Amendment, as Republican editor George Curtis wrote, was part of a process that changed the US government from one “for white men” to one “for mankind.”

    Those were a different kind of Republicans.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

For Lincoln, the country was about a growing, a wider, citizenship

This country has always been built up by "somebody else's babies" as Congressman Steve King asserted with such horror last week.

Abraham Lincoln celebrated that truth in July 1858 when the country was still only a few generations old. In one of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates during his unsuccessful campaign for the Senate, he explained:

... We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity.

We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations.

But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things.

If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are.

It's strange today to read that Lincoln was considered the plain speaker in this oratorical contest; Judge Douglas was the polished orator. Have debates degenerated or merely changed? Is it the spin or the consumers of politics who have changed?

Of course there were a lot people left out of Lincoln's ringing 1858 declaration from a contemporary perspective. Did these voters' sisters count? What about the indigenous people dispossessed in Lincoln's west? But, later, when he had the chance, Lincoln did get around to doing something about the people most excluded from that vision.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Hannah Arendt on Evil

Yes, I'll allow myself that capital "E". I find myself meditating on this from the disputatious philosopher:

When I wrote my Eichmann in Jerusalem one of my main intentions was to destroy the legend of the greatness of evil, of the demonic force, to take away from people the admiration they have for the great evildoers ...

I found in Brecht the following remark:

The great political criminals must be exposed and exposed especially to laughter. They are not great political criminals, but people who permitted great political crimes, which is something entirely different. The failure of his enterprises does not indicate that Hitler was an idiot.
Now, that Hitler was an idiot was of course a prejudice of the whole opposition to Hitler prior to his seizure of power and therefore a great many books tried then to justify him and to make him a great man. So, Brecht says, “The fact that he failed did not indicate that Hitler was an idiot and the extent of his enterprises does not make him a great man.”

It is neither the one nor the other: this whole category of greatness has no application.
“If the ruling classes,” Bertholt Brecht goes on, “permit a small crook to become a great crook, he is not entitled to a privileged position in our view of history. That is, the fact that he becomes a great crook and that what he does has great consequences does not add to his stature.” And generally speaking he then says in these very abrupt remarks: “One may say that tragedy deals with the sufferings of mankind in a less serious way than comedy.”
This of course is a shocking statement; I think that at the same time it is entirely true.

What is really necessary is, if you want to keep your integrity under these circumstances, then you can do it only if you remember your old way of looking at such things and say: “No matter what he does and if he killed ten million people, he is still a clown.”

Interview, 1978

Friday, March 17, 2017

No Muslim ban, now or ever!

For the moment, the Trump/Bannon Muslim ban has been put on ice by two courts in Hawaii and Maryland. San Franciscans turned out Thursday to roar their rejection of the president's attempt to make the country white again.

The event was organized by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), bringing together a broad coalition of groups who are unanimous in rejecting the Trump/Bannon racist strategy.

As Julia Carrie Wong who writes about tech for the Guardian tweeted:

Pretty cool that Muslim ban blocked by Chinese-American AG arguing on behalf of Syrian-American plaintiff before a Native Hawaiian judge.

This world of difference is what Trump/Bannon wants to whitewash from the land. They can't do it so long as people can overcome the fear; that's a heavy ask because the fear and the harm along the way will be all too real for those upon whom it falls.

The times require both "NO" and care from all who can.

Cats for St. Pats

It's important to someone that their stone cats partake in the celebration.

Green tinsel anyone?

And yellow clover?

We all have our own ways of celebrating cultural holidays.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

California: what does it mean to be a sanctuary state?

People of many faiths, from every corner of California, marched and lobbied in Sacramento on Wednesday in support of several bills now in the legislature that aim to enforce our state's rejection of the Trump administration's effort to "Make America White Again".

SB54 would bar police and sheriffs from arresting or detaining people just for immigration violations unless a judge issues a warrant. State and local law enforcement agencies would not be able to help investigate immigration violations, inquire about someone's immigration status or provide addresses to federal immigration officers.

... the committee also voted along party lines [all Democrats in favor] to advance SB6, which would provide $12 million to pay lawyers for immigrants facing deportation, and SB31, which would bar state officials from sharing data if the federal government creates a Muslim registry.

San Francisco Chronicle

Clergy led the crowd out of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

At 86, Dolores Huerta is still marching for justice.

Roughly: "God, who rules this country, brought me here -- and I'm staying!"

The crowd spread out at the Capital grounds.

A few folding chairs are a nice touch after a march.

As one speaker insisted: "No tiendo miedo. No fear. We have been here before." And another warned: "We are not passive. We are aggressive!" We'll see what what our political leaders do in this moment.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The burdens of hyper-masculinity

Why do right wing racist thugs go in for wack-doodle blonde hair displays? Both Trump and the Netherland's Wilders get their color out of a box. Guess it is worth remembering that in nature, the peacock whose image we call to mind, is the male ... Poor boys, so much work to be beautiful.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

We don't know what comes next

The historian Eric Foner is known, among other works, for his mammoth volume, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 which I've recently discussed here, here, and here.

But five years before he published that opus, he presented the Walter L. Fleming Lectures in Southern History at LSU. These were published as a small book, Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy. In this, he took a comparative tack, examining how freed people fared in other societies where slavery and similar bound labor systems had been ended, including Haiti, the British Caribbean, colonial Africa, and Russia where serfdom persisted under czars. Looking at Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South through these experiences, he notes that the permanent (if, for years, more nominal than actual) extension of voting rights to the ex-slaves made the U.S. experience essentially different. For a decade, former slaves took part in and held a share of political power in the former Confederacy. After presenting an overview, he zeroes in on strikes in the Combahee River area rice fields, showing how newly empowered ex-slaves tenaciously held on to their labor rights, even as the broader Reconstruction project was abandoned by the federal Congress.

In summary, he offers this quote which I found suggestive in another time when apparent gains for the freedom of so many us are once again under threat of cutback.

... the English socialist William Morris reflected on how historical struggles never seem to reach a definitive conclusion: "I pondered all these things, ... how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name."

If those of us working for racial and gender justice thought we could trust gains were permanent, we've been shown to be wrong. But the battle doesn't end and new struggles may presage new gains, gains not entirely envisioned yet. Morris -- and Foner -- are onto something, something whose shape we cannot yet see, but which our actions in this time will shape.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Promises, promises

Something to keep in mind as Republicans flounder about trying to repeal Obamacare -- trying to prevent poor people from having access to doctors so they can cut taxes for rich people.
Via TPM. And here's another one:

President Trump himself has said: “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

via Abbe Gluck at Vox

Is there a political penalty for breaking promises? Unless something unexpected happens, we're going to find out. Political penalties aren't accidents; activists make sure they are felt. Share this graphic if you wish.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

When values lead to exile

This memoir, Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran, is the story of what a vicious, insecure, rather stupid, dictatorial state will do to break someone it decides is a threat. It's not fun. It is, however, human and instructive.

Shirin Ebadi was an educated Iranian nationalist, a judge in the Tehran city court, who welcomed the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. When the new Islamic regime solidified its power, it fired her from her post, relegating her to the secretarial pool. For a decade, she could not work in her field, but was finally permitted to practice law again in 1993. For the next decade, she argued for human rights, most especially for improved legal status for women, children and refugees, all within an Islamic legal framework. She was jailed and heavily pressured. Ebadi gained so much international notice that she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. The prize afforded her work some degree of protection from a hostile state and enabled her to travel widely.

This volume describes the closing down of space for human rights work in Iran after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 and her involuntary exile after his disputed re-election in 2009.

Over and over, Ebadi tried to maintain that "human rights" efforts did not mean that she was a political dissident. Her cause was the rule of law within the Iranian nation. She certainly did not aim to be an agent of the Iran's Western enemies, but the government could see her through no other lens.

I was not an opponent of the state -- I was a human rights defender, and I based my criticisms of the state on legal grounds. But authoritarian governments are not fond of shades of gray; they cannot tolerate any criticism at all ...

... I had been a judge and was now a lawyer, and the law concerns itself with intent and the results of intent. If the state intended the best for its citizens, then it needed to demonstrate that in its behavior toward them. It could not arrest journalists, throw them in prison, inflict all manner of psychological torture and abuse on them, and then dispatch an agent to talk to me about America "exploiting" my objections to this.

And this determined woman would not give up. She defended members of the Bahai faith who the Iranian clerical state considers traitorous apostates from their version of Islam, worthy of prison or death. She exposed the death penalty for children; she protested torture and illegal imprisonment of people who the regime declared enemies. And she was hard to silence because the Nobel had given her international standing.

And so, the state looked for ways to reach into what she held dear, her family -- and thus to break her will to keep agitating for the rule of law. The story builds toward the Iranian intelligence service's great triumph: drawing her loved husband of three decades into a "honey trap" (an illicit liaison) and forcing him through shame and then torture to denounce her work on video. The ending is dramatic, but I found the one of the episodes on the way to that horrible end most illuminating.

The state had finally started going after my family. It wasn't just content with me anymore. I had witnessed this over the years with many of my clients, dissidents and activists, whose relatives suffered state intimidation, were hassled and threatened and sometimes blackmailed or imprisoned, all "collateral damage" in the quest to get the original target -- the dissident or activist or journalist in question -- to drop their activities. It was the dirtiest of the methods the security agencies used, exploiting these families and their emotional ties.

Ebadi recognized that she was the target when the authorities seized her daughter's passport and summoned the young woman for interrogation. She explained was happening to her daughter Nargess and husband Javad.

"This a test," I said as we sat down around the table. "It's a test to see if I'll cave, if they can use Nargess to get to me. If we react, they will try to use her forever. But if I stand firm and don't respond, they'll realize they'll need another tactic."

Nargess took up her mother's perspective; she was willing to fight. The test came when the authorities summoned the daughter for questioning on a day when Ebadi was supposed to fly to an overseas seminar.

... intelligence agents had timed their little game purposefully. Would I leave the country, knowing that my daughter was sitting in a government office with the officials of a ministry that just years prior had plotted my assassination? Would I board the plane and turn my back on my daughter .. would I blink?

... But I understood that if I postponed my trip by even a single day, in order to ensure that Nargess came home safely and that her passport would be returned, they would spot my weakness. That would be the real danger. They would know then that they could use Nargess against me, and it was that I feared more than anything. If they concluded that she was my weakness, there would be no telling what they might do to her next, or to me. ...

Ebadi flew; the officials handed her passport back to Nargess. And so the state eventually went after her husband, then her sister, and a through a legal pretext, the family's property, forcing Ebadi into lonely permanent exile in London. She's not crushed though; hence this terrible telling of their tale.
It felt problematic reading this memoir in the USofA, knowing that the Iranian state is supposed to be my Enemy Number One. (Or is it Number Two, after North Korea? Who knows, on any given day.) The Islamic Republic seems a despicable regime, but then, so is mine. This is the dilemma of western peaceniks. It's not as if our wars of this century amounted to a defense of the rule of law and humane values, for all the verbiage our rulers spew. The War on Terror has confused "the left" because there have been no "good guys" on some anti-imperial side to applaud. Can we make a consistent stand for peace without illusions? Hard, but needed.

All the more reason to listen sympathetically to others, like Shirin Ebadi, stuck in the same painful place, defending values that seem to have no home base.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday scenery: San Francisco's glass and steel new downtown

City residents who don't often venture into the heart of the financial district/corporate playground downtown can find the current building boom quite astonishing.

It's a world of shiny glass and steel down there ...

As well as projected fantasies.

Will any of this hold up as well as this 1920s facade? I found myself wondering while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Stirrings of freedom: somehow it's worse when a girl does it?

Last fall a sprinkling of professional athletes, following the example of Colin Kaepernick, started kneeling during the national anthem in protest of injustices visited on Black people. It was never a huge number, but something novel was happening.

The politics/sports nerds at FiveThirtyEight recently produced a podcast on these protests and professional athlete activism in general. One insight: where once coaches and teams could squelch such uppity behavior by threatening to cut short a performer's career, the top players in pro sports nowadays make so much money and are so valuable to teams, they can get away with far more political expression. And when a few stars step out, there is more room for others.

I hadn't realized that any women had taken up the kneeling protest, but here's Megan Rapinoe from the U.S. National Women's Soccer Team.

The U.S. Soccer Federation is fighting back. Here's Ken Reed from League of Fans on that decision.

U.S. Soccer Takes on Role of Third-World Dictator
In the wake of women’s national team member Megan Rapinoe’s decision to kneel during the national anthem last September in protest of injustices she was seeing in the United States, the U.S. Soccer Federation has issued a new rule REQUIRING all players to “stand respectfully” during the Star Spangled Banner.

If you took the “U.S.” part out, and inserted “Syria” or “North Korea” in front of “Soccer Federation” you would understandably think the new rule had been passed down from dictators Bashar al-Assad and Kim Jong-un.

What happened to the First Amendment, the thing that more than anything else separates us from Syria and North Korea? ...

You can read the rest at the link.

Rapinoe has said she'll stand this year, as has Kaepernick (if he catches on somewhere). But these aren't children; athletes are adults and they have growing support for expressing political opinions. FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten reported that a majority of U.S. residents express support for athletes' right to make public political statements -- though a majority also don't approve of their doing it in the context of the anthem. Most likely, there will be more ...

Friday cat blogging

Morty checks out the world outside. He's a little ghostly.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

San Francisco: Women turn out for women

On the way to the International Women's Day rally yesterday at Civic Center, I didn't know how large it would be. It had not been much publicized in the networks I'm part of.

I needn't have been concerned ... for an hour, women in red, bearing their signs, drifted across the plaza. The crowd eventually numbered over 1000, I think.

A native woman blessed the proceedings.

That's Conny Ford from the local Labor Council addressing the crowd over the completely inadequate sound system.

The best of our current batch of Supervisors, Sandra Fewer and Hillary Ronen, also took the podium.

But the best aspect of the rally, for me, was that I seemed to know more people at the mic than in the crowd. There's a new generation of activists aborning.

These ladies have got it!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

War is a hard habit to kick

Erudite Partner has published another of her occasional think pieces via TomDispatch. This one explores what variant of all-war, all-the-time the world is likely to get from the Great Tangerine:

American Carnage: Fighting the Forever War
In his inaugural address, President Trump described a dark and dismal United States, a country overrun by criminal gangs and drugs, a nation stained with the blood seeping from bullet-ridden corpses left at scenes of “American carnage.” It was more than a little jarring.

Certainly, drug gangs and universally accessible semi-automatic weapons do not contribute to a better life for most people in this country. When I hear the words “American carnage,” however, the first thing I think of is not an endless string of murders taking place in those mysterious “inner cities” that exist only in the fevered mind of Donald Trump. The phrase instead evokes the non-imaginary deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in real cities and rural areas outside the United States. It evokes the conversion of millions of ordinary people into homeless refugees. It reminds me of the places where American wars seem never to end, where new conflicts seem to take up just as the old ones are in danger of petering out. These sites of carnage are the cities and towns, mountains and deserts of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and other places that we don’t even find out about unless we go looking. They are the places where the United States fights its endless wars.

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump often sounded like a pre-World War II-style America First isolationist, someone who thought the United States should avoid foreign military entanglements. Today, he seems more like a man with a uniform fetish. He’s referred to his latest efforts to round up undocumented immigrants in this country as “a military operation.” ...

Read it all at the link.
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