Thursday, June 30, 2005

Out of Iraq NOW!
Markers on the way out

war not saviorsmall
Noticed on a church in San Jose, California

Go away for three weeks and what happens? Looks like a turning point has been reached; the US public has become aware that the war in Iraq is a miserable sinkhole swallowing up our soldiers, our resources and whatever shred of goodwill we ever had in the world.

So there's Preznit Bush on the television blithering about "freedom" and "resolve" and even the mainstream media treat it as hooey. This war of aggression has reached a limit. Media Benjamin of Code Pink laid it out: 'We've got new momentum. Now let's ride the wave."

Back in April in a speech at Purdue University, Van Gosse an historian at Franklin and Marshall University and a leader in the national coalition United for Peace and Justice laid out some markers the antiwar movement might look to as evidence we were making progress. The list is worth keeping in mind:

  • A state legislature passes an "Out Now" resolution calling for immediate withdrawal (even getting a vote on such a resolution is a victory of sorts)

  • A command rank officer resigns as an act of dissent from the war

  • A prominent Republican elected official breaks ranks with the President

  • A member of Congress loses his or her seat because of support for the war

  • A major national institution (a large religious denomination, a big union, a major association) calls for immediate withdrawal

  • A citywide campaign gets recruiters kicked out of schools

  • Celebrities from the (poor, people of color and/or rural) constituencies that provide the troops speak directly to potential volunteers, urging them not to participate in an unjust occupation

  • More state legislatures follow Montana's lead and call for bringing home their National Guard units

  • Churches start creating sanctuaries for soldiers who refuse to fight

  • A top religious leader urges youths not to enlist, and the right of military dissent from an unjust war

  • The count of members of Congress who oppose so-called "supplemental aid" to fund the war consistently increases

  • A resolution supporting immediate withdrawal is placed on the ballot in California or elsewhere-and wins

  • More and more state Democratic Party organizations follow California's in calling for immediate withdrawal [kudos to Progressive Democrats of America on that win!]

  • Congress passes a non-binding resolution opposing "stop loss" orders as a form of involuntary servitude

  • The biggest win of all, of course, would be a candidate in 2008 who repudiates not only this war, but the entire doctrine of pre-emptive military domination of the world, as immoral and disastrous -- and not only gets the Democratic nomination but wins the general election. A pipe dream? Certainly, at this point, but this is how we need to start thinking about ourselves; this is the level of responsibility we need to accept for what our government is doing to the world.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Refreshingly unabashed promotion of tourism below Machu Picchu


The village of Aguas Calientes is the terminus of the rail line that runs through the valley of the Urubamba River from the regional capitol Cusco, Peru. The mysterious, hallowed Inca ruin, Machu Picchu, is located on a peak several miles above the river, accessible by bus from the end of the train tracks. Machu Picchu lives up to its UN designation as a World Heritage site, thoroughly worth the effort to reach it, whether on foot via the Inca Trail or by rail.

The town below seems scarcely a place of human habitation; rather it is a chaotic jumble of buildings where, as a friend remarked, "restaurants seem to spring from the gutters." A commanding statute of an Inca (ruler) towers over the main square, but there seems no living center. A couple of years ago a landslide swept down the overhanging granite slopes, leaving eleven people missing. The town's only purpose seems to extract dollars from tourist/pilgrims.


The municipality is refreshingly honest about its purpose and its relationship with its visitors. On every ticket on the bus to and from the ruins riders can read the following message, conveniently rendered in the town's English:

Municipality of Machupicchu

The mayor and councilmen of the Municipality of Machupicchu cordially welcome you to the Village of Machupicchu (mistakenly called Aguas Calientes [for example, by area maps]) . . . created by law 9396 in 1941.

The village of Machupicchu features hotels, restaurants, bus service to the Inca Sanctuary and the rich and varied production and sale of handicrafts which benefit the local people. Thanks to tourism it is possible to guarantee the local urban and rural economy.

We invite you to come to Machupicchu and stay longer . . . .

Our concern is the twelve peasant communities in that suffer the harsh blows of poverty, in spite of the precarious farming activity carried out on a small scale. We are looking for greater economic resources to socially attend to this rural sector and to carry though on the social development of its children, education, health, beautification, and the basic services of water, light, sewage and communications, in order to improve conditions of life.

We want that you be our strategic allies, helping us to help, promoting greater purchases of handicrafts, food and basically creating more tourism of longer duration in the Village of Machupicchu.

Consume and Purchase in the Village of Machupicchu.

The message reminded of me of the post-911 slogan promoted here in San Francisco: "America -- open for business."


Thursday, June 09, 2005

Time to head for the hills

Not actually to these hills which are in the Bridger Range in Montana, but to high places in the Andes around Cuzco and to Machu Picchu, all in Peru. I'll have stories and pictures at the end of June. Meanwhile, don't let the Bushies get us any more down!

Let us hope for both peace AND justice

Quechua Indians offered coca leaves to Earth Mother, a traditional plea for justice, in a plaza in La Paz; Noah Friedman-Rudovsky for The New York Times

To keep up with developments in Bolivia, follow Jim Schultz's blog from Cochabamba.

Cat haiku

I bothered her. See number 10 below.

Apparently I was parsing the cat's comments primitively in this post. Picked up this far more sophisticated version at The Alna Erratic. No, I promise, really, this is not going to become a cat blog.

The food in my bowl
is old, and more to the point
Contains no tuna.

So you want to play.
Will I claw at dancing string?
Your ankle's closer.

There's no dignity
In being sick -- which is why
I don't tell you where.

Seeking solitude
I am locked in the closet.
For once I need you.

Tiny can, dumped in
Plastic bowl. Presentation,
One star; service: none.

Am I in your way?
You seem to have it backwards:
This pillow's taken.

Your mouth is moving;
Up and down, emitting noise.
I've lost interest

The dog wags his tail,
Seeking approval. See mine?
Different message.

My brain: walnut-sized.
Yours: largest among primates.
Yet, who leaves for work?

Most problems can be
Ignored. The more difficult
Ones can be slept through.

My affection is conditional.
Don't stand up,
It's your lap I love.

Cats can't steal the breath
Of children. But if my tail's
Pulled again, I'll learn.

I don't mind being
Teased, any more than you mind
A skin graft or two.

So you call this thing
Your "cat carrier." I call
these my "blades of death."

Toy mice, dancing yarn
Meowing sounds. I'm convinced:
You're an idiot.

Arnold wants you mad at his enemies

"I kick their butt."

The LA Times somehow listened in on a conference call on which big donors to Gov. Arnold got the lowdown on his campaign strategy. Okay, such events are mostly just intended to massage well-heeled contributors, but there were some revealing moments, according to the paper:

Schwarzenegger's media expert, Don Sipple, outlined a strategy "based on a lot of polling" to create a "phenomenon of anger" among voters toward public employee unions.

…"The process is like peeling an onion," Sipple said, describing a multi-step plan for persuading voters that public-worker unions are "motivated by economic self-interest" instead of "doing the best job for the state."

… "When you get to the point of … 'These people are on your payroll and they are out to roll you every day,' that creates a kind of phenomenon of anger. But it takes a long time to get there…. As the campaign goes on, we have to articulate that."

So I guess we know what the fall campaign will look like: the people who do the work to keep the state going, firefighters, teachers, nurses, will be demonized as parasitical crooks. Ever heard of a psychological phenomenon called "projection"?

The fat cats on the line were reminded about what really matters: "I'm sure you are aware the [Assembly] speaker and Democrats proposed a $3-billion tax increase. I think it will affect anybody who is on this call," explained Sipple, referring to a plan to raise taxes on individuals making more than $143,000 a year. They were exhorted to give yet more money: "the governor is very hopeful we can come together and have a big splash before July 30 to pay for all this media," Renee Croce (fundraiser for Schwarzenegger's PAC) urged.

To keep up with Arnold and his donors, visit here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Does this look like a riot to you?


Anti-government demonstrators march toward the capital La Paz, Bolivia on Tuesday, June 7, 2005. A resignation offer by President Carlos Mesa did little to halt a crippling blockade of the capital, as demonstrators marched on La Paz to demand more power for Bolivia's poor Indian majority. (AP Wideworld/Dado Galdieri) From CJR Daily

Several hours ago, the BBC reported that Mesa had sounded what came across as a desperate alarm:

"The country can not continue playing with the possibility of splitting into a thousand pieces. The only solution for Bolivia is an immediate electoral process," Mr Mesa said. "This is coming from a president who is on his way out. It is a call to a country on the brink of civil war," he said.

The picture sure doesn't look like a riot to me. Yes, I've been in a few -- I did after all spend 1965-69 at UC Berkeley, majoring in history and minoring in rioting at I sometimes claim, only partially facetiously.

Now I don't claim to know much of anything about what is going on in Bolivia, beyond a general understanding that country people, mostly indigenous, seem to repeatedly protest what they see as a sell off of the country's assets. And I don't claim there has not been the chaotic violence properly called "riots" somewhere in Bolivia. In fact, there are reports of miners throwing dynamite at police.

But that picture looks like something else. It looks like a very dignified and disciplined procession of people intent on a purpose. And that is no riot, it is something much more powerful: perhaps civil society taking power, a revolution of sorts.

[UPDATE:] Maybe there is a riot planned -- one incited by the US Embassy by manipulating the ordinary sleazy ambitions of ordinary, corrupt Bolivian politicians. See Jim Schultz's invaluable analysis here.

Race progress, race tensions --
a mixed bag of interesting stuff

New York Times graphic

The New York Times has a good piece today about a Black middle manager's racial discrimination lawsuit against GE. The filing of the suit shows how the same company can look progressive or rotten about race, depending on how you look at its data. The gradual development of a Black middle class in this racist culture has created a demand for consultants who explicate "diversity" to corporate clients, so we get this:

"Even if some people break through, you may have a multitude of frustrated people facing cultural barriers, not getting stretch assignments, and whose managers say, 'we're still not sure they've proven themselves'," said Frederick A. Miller, chief executive of the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group. … Mr. Miller contended that blacks remain underrepresented in upper echelons. "African Americans are running out of patience with what they perceive as different rules for blacks and whites on the fast track," he said.

On another front, Dave Zirin nails the management of the San Francisco 49ers for its racist, sexist "media training video." He quotes the great college basketball coach John Thompson on his DC radio show:

"I would have walked out of that video on general principles not only because of the so-called humor but more because the organization is showing through that video what they think of me as a man - especially as a Black man - saying that the only way they can get through to me, the only way they can get me to listen, is by playing to jokes, playing to bigotry and stupidity. [That organization] is saying everything about the way they think about me and my intelligence by showing this.... Any player who now is defending this garbage is also defending their own treatment as something less than a fully developed man."

See the video here for yourself if you've been in a cave the last week.

Meanwhile the San Francisco Chronicle has a good article on academic and pastor Michael Eric Dyson who has just written a book, Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind? Dyson has got it in for middle class Blacks, like Cosby, who trash poor Blacks. The article is a fair summary of the controversy with input from local teacher Linda Spriggs who works with at-risk kids in alternative education programs in the San Francisco public schools:

"People like us mostly don't go there. We don't want to associate with them. We don't go back and pick up somebody."

There's nothing for white folks to feel complacent about in all this. The historic US sin of branding some humans less valuable than others, rooted always in white supremacy, has us all, however well-meaning, dancing about in endless permutations of racial meanings.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Exposed by an indignant feline

indignant Frisky
"You are just wasting time, you should open that can. Don't try to ignore me. This sitting at the computer thing is a ruse -- you live to make me miserable. Why don't you get up and do what I want?"
"Life is not as it should be. You can't be so stupid that you don't understand me."
"What is wrong with these humans? Why can't they act as I expect them to? They could do better if they tried."

I'm pooped tonight. Frisker has had a lot to say today, so I thought I'd let her blog. What she has to say is sometimes rather tedious.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Hope in the Dark:
untold histories, wild possibilities

Hope in the Dark wants us to remember this.

I wanted so much to love the book of this title. Who doesn't need a dose of hope? And Rebecca Solnit does provide a vision of hope -- and, additionally, raises difficult questions which I cannot answer quite as she has.

Certainly she got me started nodding my head vigorously in agreement. For example with this:

The only story many radicals [garden variety liberals too?] know how to tell is the one that is the underside of the dominant culture's story…They conceive of the truth as pure bad news, appoint themselves the deliverers of it, and keep telling it over and over. Eventually they come to look for the downside in any emerging story, even in apparent victories -- and in each other: something about the task seems to give some of them the souls of metermaids and dogcatchers.

Yup, been there, done that. And, like Solnit, I have learned one of the great correctives for getting stuck there: simply looking around at the changes that have happened in my lifetime, unfinished and incomplete as they are. After all, in 1960 which was roughly when I first figured out I was a lesbian, who ever thought I'd be living in a society where the mainstream was arguing about whether I could get married and meanwhile my church helped my partner and me celebrate our 25th anniversary? In the same year, who could have envisioned a Black US middle class enjoying most of same privileges as whites, even if still not a fair share of the underlying wealth? Or that Soviet domination of Eastern Europe would simply be gone? Or that all of Africa would have sloughed off formal colonial domination, including seeing apartheid peacefully overthrown? We indeed inhabit an unjust and violent world, but one full of potential new freedoms as well as of growing dangers.

Solnit's premise is that cultural change precedes political and social change, a notion for which she provides examples from sources as diverse as Thomas Jefferson, the Zapatistas, and indigenous peoples' campaign around the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival on their American turf. She is sure every effort to envision justice and compassion contributes to shaping our futures. As she says "this book is an argument that culture generates politics and that every act counts."

To that assertion I can say "Amen" -- and that there's more to think about. And it is in the "more" that I have reservations about what Solnit is telling us. Sometimes political changes shape future cultural changes, rather than the other way around; just think of the Voting Rights Act, for example. Nobody was thinking of Latinos when this was passed, but it has been important in bringing them into play in southwestern states. I keep going back to the idea that changes are dialectical: there is no rule about whether political arrangements or cultural ones come first -- they happen in dynamic interplay.

Cogently, Solnit charges that "Americans are good at responding to a crisis and then going home to let another crisis brew. . ." She contends this doesn't work in political life:

Going home seems to be a way to abandon victories when they're still delicate, still in need of protection and encouragement. …It's always too soon to go home. Most of the great victories continue to unfold, unfinished in the sense that they are not yet fully realized, but also in the sense that they continue to spread influence. A phenomenon like the civil rights movement creates a vocabulary and toolbox for social change used around the globe, so its effect far outstrips its goals and specific achievements -- and failures.

Okay -- but, darn it, most people don't engage in political struggle to get off on it. (Solnit is very good at describing how close to orgasmic political victories can occasionally feel to dedicated activists.) Most people will engage with social struggles only reluctantly and out of necessity -- and they are not inferior people for their reticence. Some, women with children and all people so poor they barely stay alive, are simply too busy! For many others, a life bounded by fair and compassionate interactions with friends, family, immediate neighbors and small scale institutions can be a life well lived; we cannot make it the measure of people whether they engage in a wider arena.

This poses a problem for democracy and for a world in which actions in one part of the globe can impact people a world away. But that is the activist's problem: how to engage people with their social environments, yes -- but also, how, without dropping an expectation of responsibility, to spare people the burden of carrying the whole world, all the time, in addition to their own lives. Solnit is very helpful in conceptualizing the former task. She is not so good at thinking through the later. And we must, otherwise the rich and the wasteful, and their hired help who always have time, energy and the incentive to keep struggling, will determine the future for all of us.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

"Our current slow motion coup d'état"

As is often the case, Billmon nails our condition. What causes the horrid sensation of gasping for air while drowning that accompanies reading the morning paper (or the blogs)? We are experiencing a "slow motion coup d'etat." Something is awful happening here, happening to the historic fabric of our democracy and society.

I remember being in the board meeting of a progressive activist organization when the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore and saying, "well, that is a coup." It wasn't so much that they gave the election to Bush (after all the election was for practical purposes a toss up) but that their reasoning was so obviously partisan, so without respect for any need to come up with a plausible rationale.

The US response to 9/11, our wars of revenge and aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq, our torturing gulag, are all cut from the same cloth.

In reflecting on Mark Felt's "coming out" as Deep Throat, Billmon observes:

What the health of the Republic requires … may not be a new crop of leakers and whistleblowers, or a fresh young generation of Woodwards and Bernsteins -- or even a more independent, aggressive media. What it may need is a new population (or half of a population, anyway), one that hasn't been stupified or brainwashed into blind submission, that won't look upon sadistic corruption and call it patriotism, and that will refuse to trade the Bill of Rights for a plastic Jesus and a wholly false sense of security.

That's a much taller order than asking the Gods to send us another Deep Throat -- or even a Luke Skywalker. It's also not an easy thing for liberals, with their old-fashioned faith in democracy, to face: That the Evil Emperor might have a majority (a narrow one, but still a majority) on his side.

What seems to broken is any expectation of burdensome participation in the direction of the society. Democracies do demand some of that. A majority of us (and this includes Democrats as well as Republicans and the actual fascists, imperialists, and theocrats) apparently look for leaders who will take care of us, preserve our accustomed standard of consumption, and promise that we won't suffer from living in the global village ever more intimately with the rest of an impoverished, angry world. As many have pointed out, all those rabid war supporters aren't signing themselves (or their children) up to go get blown up in Iraq. The majority mood is simple: we don't want to be bothered.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Defended borders

Canada gives Peace Garden to United States in honor of longest shared, peaceful border; International Peace Garden Foundation

When I was growing up in Buffalo, New York, we learned a proud mantra: "Canada and the United States share the longest undefended border in the world."

No more. Not only has the US made crossing the border problematic for Muslims, but now it seems our ever-vigilant Transportation Safety Administration wants lists of passengers on flights within Canada. Seems Canadian airlines flying between Canadian cities cross the US border everyday. Overflights take the shortest route between Toronto and Vancouver, for example. According to Reuters Canada: "Of the 160,000 Canadian flights that enter U.S. airspace every year, around 120,000 are traveling domestically."

The Liberal Transport Minister Jean Lapierre assures Canadians that he is going to try to negotiate with Washington. Other politicians have more to say:

Washington is pushing its way into Canadian security matters where it doesn’t belong, charged New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton. “This is certainly a step towards the kind of deeper integration between our two countries that I think a lot of Canadians are concerned about.”

Yet even as the politicians protest, it all seems a little pro forma. The US is going to do what it is going to do and Canadians will concede, as they accept that they must. Their airlines will either turn over their passenger lists or fly further north. Resignedly, the Toronto Star concludes "Ultimately, air travellers will pay."

I'm think we all pay, condemned to live with partially rational fears, bullying bureaucrats, expansive US imperial arrogance, and more and more defended borders and minds.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sutter Health From an Employee's Perspective

Graphic from Sutter Corporate Watch

On Tuesday, May 31, the San Francisco Chronicle led off the business section with this hot news item:

Sutter Health CEO to move on
Leader of state's biggest hospital network
to train Mormon missionaries

You might say that Van Johnson, Sutter Health's chief executive officer, is leaving his job for a higher calling. . . Johnson, 60, is giving up a $1.94 million salary running one of the state's largest hospital networks to take the unpaid assignment. He and his wife, Barbara, will be responsible for about 180 young people, most between the ages of 19 and 26, serving two-year missions in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

A friend of mine who has been working in a Sutter hospital for Mr. Johnson had some thoughts on the boss' departure; since the Chronicle didn't print this worker's letter, I thought I'd share it here:

I was touched that Sutter CEO Van Johnson would leave his job "for a higher calling." As a Sutter Employee, I know that many of us would love to do something similar.

Perhaps we'd like devote ourselves full time to working to end poverty, achieving racial justice, supporting low income kids to stay in school. Some of us would simply love to devote ourselves full time to taking care of our children, our parents or our neighborhood.

Unfortunately, none of us have been making a $1.94 million salary like Mr. Johnson. I am sure that many of us could do as well as he does for Sutter. We know the rules:

1) Lay off employees and then those left will be so frightened that they will gladly do the work of two.

2) Cut back patient services while proclaiming first class health care in expensive TV ads.

3) Make certain that 97 percent of your resources are denied to the uninsured and limited to those with MediCal.

4) If underpaid employees give you ample notice of a lawful one day strike, unlawfully lock them out for 4 more days so they lose a weeks pay. That will show them! It will also give you time to hire outside paramilitary security firms to frighten the workers, and give the Berkeley Police time to plan to encircle Alta Bates Hospital with police cars -- rape and robbery be damned!

5) Finally, if any of your practices cause legal action to be brought against you or fines to be levied against you-who cares! You can afford it. You are saving money in all the right places -- on your workers and your patients!


Please withhold my name as I am a Sutter employee and would be fired for this.

It has to be time to revive the simple idea of health care as human right, not a profit center for the greedy.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Lining up pastors for discrimination

The Bush Administration wants African American support for its 'faith-based initiative' -- especially the part that allows recipients of government funds to pick and choose who they hire with the money -- and who they hate so much they won't hire them. Current law forbids religious charities from receiving federal funding if they engage in discrimination.

The Bush folks were not quite so crass as to put it that way to a group of Black pastors invited to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (Most Secretaries of State don't serve as Congressional liaisons, but perhaps this involves some special consideration. . .?)

Rev. Timothy McDonald, chair of the Washington-based African American Ministers in Action and minister at First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, said the administration had been dishonest about the real reason for the meeting with Rice, and the fine print of the letter. "What angers me is the whole way they called the meeting talking about Africa and HIV and then they just sprung the letter on them," McDonald said. "The way it's being promoted is that you'll be able to get more money for your church to help with their programs, but they're not being told that they're signing something that condones discrimination."

"That's why they're keeping it so private, because they know once it goes public they won't be able to use them," he asserted. A similar thing happened, he said, when the Bush administration sought black support for government vouchers that could pay for religious education.

Not nice. The subtext, as in so much of contemporary political struggle, is whether gays, of whatever race, will get equal treatment. It is a lot more likely that Catholic Social Services will use a law like this to fire a lesbian social worker than that they'll refuse to hire a Moslem to deal with their Pakistani immigrant clients. Let's hope people supportive of equal justice can band together to stop this.

Even a chimp gets it right once in awhile

"If an infinite number of monkeys are given typewriters for an infinite amount of time, they will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare." --Thomas Huxley, June 30, 1860; thanks to soj for the quote

Writing in today's New York Times, super pundit Thomas Friedman opines:
In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They "make you feel so unwanted now," said Mr. Das. America was a country "that was always reinventing itself," he added, because it was a country that always welcomed "all kinds of oddballs" and had "this wonderful spirit of openness." American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. "If you go dark, the world goes dark."

Bottom line: We urgently need a national commission to look at all the little changes we have made in response to 9/11 - from visa policies to research funding, to the way we've sealed off our federal buildings, to legal rulings around prisoners of war - and ask this question: While no single change is decisive, could it all add up in a way so that 20 years from now we will discover that some of America's cultural and legal essence - our DNA as a nation - has become badly deformed or mutated?

I don't much think we need a national commission. We simply need to stop acting like scared rats and start living like confident citizens of the richest, most powerful, even if most ignorant, country in the world. Fear is a sickness; courage heals.