Saturday, December 30, 2006


A hearty group of some 50-75 peace activists braved the cold tonight in San Francisco bear witness to the 3000th U.S. troop fatality in Iraq. (As I write this the toll reads "only" 2998, but no one doubts there will be more tomorrow...)

They chose the front of the Veterans Building at the Civic Center's War Memorial Complex for their vigil; sadly, it was within this building that countries signed the original United Nations Charter with the aim of preserving world peace.

It was a sad night for simple messages...

including one directed to our local Congresswoman, the new Speaker.

Nearby in Civic Center plaza, Veterans for Peace held their own commemoration.

A series of readers intoned the names of the U.S. dead.

The vets had hung 3000 neckties from the closely pruned trees in the plaza to represent the fallen.

A man who apparently carries his possessions in a shopping cart sat quietly listening to the names, perhaps praying.

Meanwhile, nearby, patrons flocked to the San Francisco Ballet's performance of the Nutcracker.

UPDATE: sfmike at Civic Center has up great pictures of the ties and the vets, taken in daylight when you can really see them.
It seems right to give the last word to Riverbend -- after all the 3000 U.S. soldiers died in her country, as have some 600,000 or so Iraqis. Riverbend is a young woman, a secular Sunni resident of Baghdad.

Nearly four years ago, I cringed every time I heard about the death of an American soldier. They were occupiers, but they were humans also and the knowledge that they were being killed in my country gave me sleepless nights. Never mind they crossed oceans to attack the country, I actually felt for them.

Had I not chronicled those feelings of agitation in this very blog, I wouldn't believe them now. Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That's the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue.

Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so.

Just because Americans die in smaller numbers, it doesn't make them more significant, does it?

No it doesn't. The deaths of both so many Iraqis and those 3000 are crimes whose authors belong on trial.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Remembering Sara Jane Moore and the 70s

Sara Jane Moore (I've been unable to source this photo, but it looks like my memory of Moore.)

The death of President Gerald Ford has stirred memories of the two assassination attempts he survived in Northern California in 1975 -- and triggered these pissy comments in the Los Angeles Times.

Although the two would-be killers' roots are different, their plots were both symptoms of the 1970s, the "goofiest decade of the century for California … in terms of its sheer ominous weirdness," said Kevin Starr, USC history professor and state librarian emeritus.

The assassination attempts ... also contributed to "an atmosphere of lawlessness" in Northern California, Starr said. ...

"A lot of people were rolling around unmoored, finding a reason to believe there was a political or conspiratorial explanation for their inner upheaval and concluding if they could only act on their impulse, they could save the world," said Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and a former leader of the Students for a Democratic Society. ...

Come on guys, get over yourselves. Yes, it was a wacky time, but admit you really hated the decade and its excesses because they signaled the end of an oppressively white, male, straight, gray-flannel-corporate United States. We're still fighting over what alternative national myth will describe this diverse country, but the majority who never fit the old picture aren't ever going allow re-imposition of the old ways. And wacky Northern California in the 1970s led the way into our problematic present.

As a 20-something San Franciscan, I had less than six degrees of separation from both women who tried to kill Ford. Squeaky Fromme, who pointed a gun at the president in Sacramento, was a member of the Charles Manson cult whose members carved up actress Sharon Tate. After Manson was jailed, some of them adopted a warped "environmentalism" that prefigured the obsessions of the Unibomber. The father of my partner at that time was a high level state bureaucrat in the Department of Fish and Game; he received bizarre threats from Manson followers who objected to hunting.

That was, happily, a pretty remote connection. But Sara Jane Moore who took a potshot at Ford on Sept. 22, 1975 was actually an acquaintance. She joined a walk from San Francisco to Modesto led by the United Farm Workers Union to denounce anti-union vintner E&J Gallo. I had the privilege of doing the whole week-long trek. The march brought together folks who worked in the wine grape fields with some of their more agile urban allies -- and the usual collection of head cases of the sort that progressive causes attract because we don't exclude them unless they act out spectacularly. One of the head cases was a homeless, brain-injured Vietnam vet who kept threatening to kill Moore because he claimed she was an FBI spy. Moore seemed mildly disturbed, but still a marginally normal, middle-class union supporter. Several of us put a good deal of energy into preventing mayhem. How were we to know that it would come out after Moore shot at Ford that she really had "informed" on radicals for the FBI?

Someone else I know from that time has posted some purported quotations from Moore whose provenance I have no reason to doubt. Moore comes across as paranoid -- and as holding beliefs about government activities that were neither uncommon nor entirely false.

Both Fromme and Moore are still serving life sentences in federal prisons.

Yes, it was a wacky time. But it is far too simple to trash the time's excesses. For good and ill, the foundations of much we live with now took shape then: the Dick (Cheney) and Don (Rumsfeld) show on the one hand, but also women's and gay equality in society and our groping progress toward a society in which no racial group either constitutes a majority or sets the cultural norm.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Football follies

Now that we have stumbled past the annual dissonance between the celebration of the birth of Christ child and the Great American Consumption Holiday, it becomes the season of the Orgy of College Football Bowls. Actually that season, like Halloween and Christmas, has acquired a creeping front fringe that begins weeks early, now in mid-December. But from now until the BCS National Championship on January 8, we're in the core season.

I love this time of year. My partner was astonished when we first got together to learn that I consider any activity that prevents me from viewing at least some fraction of all bowl games a personal insult. (The VCR helps since other people have better things to do, some of which I'm glad to participate in.) So what if I never heard of half the competing schools? (What's Troy anyway? Actually, it is an Alabama school with a pretty interesting history.) College football contests, some of them anyway, are carried on with a passionate fervor that briefly sates aggressive impulses in a relatively harmless setting. Anyone catch Rutgers' triumph over Louisville this year?

Or perhaps it is not all so harmless. In the rest of this post I'll look at some of the downsides of college football, just to keep myself honest.
  • College football claims to enhance the prestige of schools that play it at a high level. There's a nickname for this: "the Flutie Effect." (Doug Flutie famously won a bowl game for Boston College and afterward the small school believed it had profited greatly.) Colleges hope exposure in a bowl game will bring more qualified applicants or encourage donors to help out the school. Does it work? The answer seems to be "maybe."

    "The short answer is that if athletics do generate indirect benefits, they're small in nature," said Victor Matheson, an assistant professor of economics at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. "When I'm talking to my classes about the Flutie Effect, I often refer to [athletics] as a loss-leader, which is something stores will offer to bring people into the store."

    Economists mostly think the colleges that get the most out of having their teams in bowls are the same schools that already generate alumni excitement and attractive lots of good students. In football as in the rest of life, the rich tend to get richer.
  • Evidence seems much clearer that when a college invests the substantial sums required to move from less competitive sports participation into the first tier of collegiate football, NCAA Division 1-A, a pay-off in alumni giving is not guaranteed.

    Even the NCAA itself, in a 2005 commissioned report, concluded that there is "little or no robust relationship between changes in operating expenditures on football and basketball among Division 1-A schools and alumni giving."

    Critics fear that the pressures of trying to field high level athletic teams will encourage athletic departments to skate on making sure that student athletes also make progress toward graduation.
  • Speaking of graduation rates, Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson has published a "Graduation Gap Bowl" tabulation annually for eleven years. He awards the rating "Touchdown" to college teams with an overall graduation rate of over 50 percent in six academic years, a Black graduation rate of at least 50 percent, and a racial gap of less than 15 percent. Teams with overall and black graduation rates of 50 percent, but more than a 15 percent racial gap, rate as scoring a "First Down." In Jackson's opinion, teams with black graduation rates of less than 50 percent ought to be disqualified from all bowls -- they are exploiting vulnerable players. Check out the link to see how all 2006 bowl teams do on this scale. I'll just note that my alma mater Cal, which won handily today, should be disqualified; Troy is the only school in the bowls which graduates more blacks than whites.
  • Then there are questions about whether our national obsession with football is good for the young guys who are attracted to it. They might use steroids or feel pressure to bulk up by getting unhealthily fat. Some of these critiques seem to be founded in an assumption that college football athletes are too stupid to know what is good for them. Hogwash. Watch these men play and it is obvious that the good ones are very sharp people. In this respect it was great to see a profile of Daymeion Hughes, a member of that "ought to be disqualified" Cal team, musing on what he thinks young athletes with pro potential should be thinking about.

    He's researched the NFL, and is appalled by things he says he's read -- that rookies buy an average of six cars their first year or that 80 percent of players, after they leave pro ball, are bankrupt or divorced or without a home. He's perplexed players don't take better advantage of their unique opportunity to meet politicians or other important people.

    ...Entrepreneurship intrigues Hughes as much as football. ... Hughes' interest in clothes and art hold the potential for development, too. He interviewed with Nike, ... leaving with an offer to intern in the company's design department and to help design Cal's uniforms next year.

    I just can't take part in the assumption that these athletes are idiots, though an awful lot of them do seem to assume a license to act out off the field some of the time. That's hard to take. But they make such amazing catches...
You can guess the punch line here: light blogging over the next week.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hate crime charge well explained

Image from LA County DA Hate Crimes unit.

One of the many important observations that David Neiwert, the proprietor of the blog Orcinus, made in his book Death on the Fourth of July was that journalists almost universally fail to describe hate crimes charges in ways that make the legal implications of such prosecutions understandable to the general public. Since reading his book, I've seen this time and again.

So today I want to congratulate John Cote, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, for getting this just right. A San Jose man, Geary Klamm, has admitted to sending stalking notes to a neighbor that both make threats to her child and express racial venom. (The note writer is white; the recipient is African-American.) In the course of investigating these threats, police turned up other notes from the man to a property manager in the same format and containing the same racial language. But he is not being prosecuted for those notes, because they do not contain any actual threats to do harm. Cote quotes the prosecutor explaining how the law works:

He doesn't face prosecution for the notes to the property manager because they didn't contain threats or other criminal elements, [Jay] Boyarsky said.

"The two letters do not constitute hate crimes because a hate crime is first and foremost a crime," Boyarsky said. "Spewing racial epithets is generally not criminal. It's obnoxious, wrong, impolite, disgusting, offensive -- whatever term you want to use -- but not a crime. And justifiably so, because we have the First Amendment."

Klamm faces one count of felony stalking and a hate crime enhancement for allegedly harassing his neighbor.

[My emphasis.] As this example makes clear, hate crime laws don't and can't prohibit mere speech -- they simply increase the penalties for crimes committed along with expressions of hate. Opponents of hate crimes law, some possibly merely confused, but most seeking to ensure protection for their right to express prejudice, aim to confuse us about what hate crimes do. If there is no crime (in this case making an actual threat of harm), there is no hate speech violation. If Mr. Klamm is convicted for making the threats, the hate crime charge will increase the penalty, but the unlawful act causing prosecution will have been to make the threat.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas from my block

Here on our street in San Francisco's Mission District, there's a display of boughs hung on a gingerbread façade. No -- not ours. We were distracted this season by the trauma of replacing a trashed front door.

A poinsettia bush grows exuberantly. This seems appropriate in this largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood as "the poinsettia, a contemporary symbol of Christmas, was introduced to the United States and named after Joel Robert Poinsett in 1825. Poinsett was serving as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico when he saw the plant growing on the hillsides of southern Mexico, where the plant is native."

We also boast a uniquely urban variety of seasonal tree.

A fantail of lights flashes at night. Not your rural or suburban Christmas display, but this is block is home.
I find it hard this Christmas to find much joy. We celebrate that notion that God deigned to come among us as an infant human -- but what are we humans but a blight on what was once a magnificent planet? Oh sure, without us there were tsunamis and volcanoes and "nature red in tooth and claw," but still, we don't seem to have much improved the neighborhood. On the other hand, we keep returning to the notion that we should improve, or at least preserve, the neighborhood. Together. What else is there?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

At Christmas, Christians survive precariously in "holy land"

British Christian leaders --Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant -- traveled to the holy places in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in recent days. The Archbishop of Canterbury laid the blame for current Muslim-Christian tensions in the area on his own government, the United States and the Israeli occupation.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, writing in The Times of London during a four-day swing through the region, bemoaned the state of Christians in the Muslim world.

"Iraq's Christian population is dropping by thousands every couple of months and some of their most effective leaders have been forced to emigrate. In Istanbul, the Orthodox population is a tiny remnant, and their patriarch is told by some of the Turkish press that it's time he left. In Egypt, where Christian-Muslim relations have been - and still are - intimate and good, attacks on Christians are notably more frequent," Williams wrote. ...

On his visit to Bethlehem, for example, Williams wrote that the town's Christian population is down to "barely a quarter," and, "There are some disturbing signs of Muslim anti-Christian feeling, despite the consistent traditions of coexistence. But their plight is made still more intolerable by the tragic conditions created by the 'security fence' that almost chokes the shrinking town."

Williams admits that the situation was "difficult" for Christians across the region before the war in Iraq and Israel's security fence, but clearly blames the perception that Christians are part of the "crusading West" for exacerbating the situation.

This denunciation of western policies certainly accords with the the opinions we heard from refugee Iraqi Christians in Damascus last summer.

Rami Khouri reports these Christmas thoughts from Latin Patriarch of the Holy Land, Michel Sabbah.

"My vision is that we [Palestinian] Christians, whatever are our numbers, are Christians in and for our society, which is a Moslem Arab society. Christians have something specific to give as Christians, because of their belief in Jesus Christ and all the values that Jesus Christ taught us. This is an obligation. Our commandment is a commandment of love, and it is shows the way to build a society. Christian love is about accepting the other or not accepting him. It is about building with the other or refusing to build with him. All the Christian Arabs can bring to Arab society this love as a power of cohesion within the society to love themselves and show how to live together with the Moslems who are the majority in these societies. ...

"We Christians can be a true bridge through all the churches that are present in the world," he replied to my question about Arab Christians playing a role as bridges with the West. "All of us together can have an impact. We have an obligation to understand Islam for what it is, therefore we have the obligation even to have alliances with Moslems, in order to build a new type of society, and bring this as a model of coexistence to the West."

Archbishop Sabbah is not some Pollyanna. He is Palestinian by birth, appointed by Pope John Paul II as the highest ranking Roman Catholic cleric in the region. His purview includes Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, located just 20 minutes apart, but cut off from each other by the Israeli occupation. Bethlehem in particular has been crippled, its agricultural lands made inaccessible by to its residents by the Israeli wall, its pilgrim and tourist traffic cut off by arbitrary military check points and "closures." Yet he seeks a way forward in not only justice, but also in understanding and love.

In a time when the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom trumpets that most Britons believe that "religion does more harm than good," maybe hope comes from quarters where we might least expect peace and goodwill to break through.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Uncharitable thought

Besides all those cards and catalogues, 'tis the season of what my mother used to call "the begging letters." Whether driven by tax considerations or seasonal good will, we are more likely to donate to charities in December than in much of the rest of the year. Newspapers know that -- they deluge us with "the season of sharing" appeals.

And the big nonprofits know that. They start with the direct mail appeals in mid-November and don't quit. Like many people, I just chuck these and grumble about the waste created by physical, snailmail spam. All those trees, so much gas, so much labor ...

Want to know who are the largest senders of this stuff? I ran across this list here.

A survey by Target Marketing reports that 17 of the top U.S. mailers by volume are nonprofits. These not-for-profit leaders, in alphabetical order, are: AAA, AARP, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Red Cross, Consumers Union, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Disabled American Veterans, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Society, National Geographic Society, National Wildlife Federation, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Republican National Committee, Salvation Army, Smile Train, and U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

Remind me there are probably more needy recipients for my giving.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Good news on the eve of Christmas

Woodfin Suites workers, Lori Hurlebaus photo

Several reports this morning of good news for immigrants and supporters of justice:
  • Near home, hotel employees at the Woodfin Suites who were threatened with termination for trying to get their employer to comply with the Emeryville living wage ordinance won a reprieve yesterday. Their supporters at EBASE write:

    An Alameda County Superior Court Judge granted the workers' request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the Woodfin from going through their with plans to fire suspended workers on December 29. The injunction requires that the hotel either bring the workers back to work, or continue their paid administrative leave. The injunction is effective until January 23rd, 2007.

    The hotel claimed it was simply complying with federal law in making multiple requests for workers to provide identity documents. More on past iterations of this struggle here. and here.
  • Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, incoming Democratic Governor Deval Patrick says he is going to cancel an agreement that his predecessor Republican Mitt Romney made with the Feds to use state troopers for immigration enforcement. Romney wanted a gesture to ride fear of immigrants toward a presidential bid. Patrick's spokesperson said:

    "He believes troopers' time would be better spent working with local law enforcement officials on issues like firearm trafficking, drug use, and gang violence."

    That's not just spin. Local cops with any professionalism seldom want to get involved in immigration crackdowns; jumping in with the Feds leads to fearful communities that won't talk with the police. It also creates too many opportunities for some individual officers to practice bigotry and extortion from vulnerable residents.
  • Across the political spectrum, lawmakers are figuring out that "war on terror" regulations are breaking the asylum process for otherwise eligible applicants. Somehow the definition of "past support for terrorism" has come to mean excluding persons who paid ransoms to rescue kidnapped relatives or did the bidding of gunmen threatening their lives. The United States has an obligation under international conventions to provide a fair process for determining whether asylum seekers really face danger; post 9/11 paranoia is making a mockery of this requirement.
Let's wish indeed for a peaceful Christmas for the planet's migrants, estimated at 191 million people worldwide.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What we have wrought

Faiza writes

The news from Baghdad is depressing and deteriorated more and more… hope is diminishing in people everyday…

When you meet an Iraqi who is living inside, he is usually sad, broken, has lost hope, and keeps repeating a sentence: Iraq is lost, and will not come back…

Alas; I regret, as a lot of other Iraqis regret, like me, having participated in the elections process, thinking we were making a better future for our country, that we were giving the chance to new, nationalistic leaderships to lead the country's fate.

But after one year passed since the last elections, here we are asking ourselves; what have we reaped from this government?


As for me, I am tired of expatriation
My heart is tired, heavy with the wounds of Iraq
I want to get back to my country
Whether I live or die, I do not care
But I do care to be there
I have nothing more precious than Iraq
And remaining there under the stress of the daily terror is, in its own way, belonging to Iraq, and a resolve to belong
I am weary of living in another country
I am weary of blending with people who are other than my people, the Iraqis.
Read the rest of her post.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Meyerson nails Episcopal Church realities

Seen at antiwar demonstration, March 18, 2006

Reading Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post is often like breathing fresh air. The columnist brings a whiff of his Los Angeles reality -- multi-cultural, multi-racial, trade union-friendly -- to confines that too often stuffy with convention and pomposity.

Still, it was strange to find him opining today on "Episcopalians Against Equality." The defection of a few old and rich Virginia parishes from the national church seems not his usual sort of topic. Nor mine. Though I participate in Christian worship though the Episcopal Church, I leave discussion of its conflicts to folks far more immersed in church matters than I, for example the community at Fr. Jake Stops the World.

Meyerson's take on Episcopalian squabbles is a delightful secular view of our tempestuous mini-world.

Whether it was the thought of a woman presiding over God's own country club or of gays snuggling under its eaves, it was all too much for a distinct minority of Episcopalians. The dissident parishes in the Virginia diocese contain only about 5 percent of the state's parishioners. But it's the church the defectors have latched on to that makes this schism news.

In slamming the door on their American co-religionists, the two largest parishes, which are in Fairfax City and Falls Church, also announced their affiliation with the Episcopal Church of Nigeria. The presiding Nigerian archbishop, Peter Akinola, promotes legislation in his country that would forbid gays and lesbians to form organizations or to eat together in restaurants and that would send them to jail for indulging in same-gender sexual activity. Akinola's agenda so touched the hearts of the Northern Virginia faithful that they anointed him... as their bishop.

Peer pressure played a role, too. Explaining the decision to leave the American church, Vicki Robb, a Fairfax parishioner and Alexandria public relations exec, told The Post's Bill Turque and Michelle Boorstein that the church's leftward drift has made it "kind of embarrassing when you tell people that you're Episcopal." It must be a relief to finally have an archbishop who doesn't pussyfoot around when gays threaten to dine in public.

The alliance of the Fairfax Phobics with Archbishop Restaurant Monitor is just the latest chapter in the global revolt against modernity and equality and, more specifically, in the formation of the Orthodox International. The OI unites frequently fundamentalist believers of often opposed faiths in common fear and loathing of challenges to ancient tribal norms. It has featured such moving tableaus as the coming together in the spring of 2005 of Israel's chief rabbis, the deputy mufti of Jerusalem, and leaders of Catholic and Armenian churches, burying ancient enmities to jointly condemn a gay pride festival....

The American [Episcopal] church ... has largely paralleled the transformation of Rockefeller Republicans into liberal, Democratic secularists. The old joke of New York politicos was that Jews had the incomes of Episcopalians but voted like Puerto Ricans. Now it's the Episcopal prelates who are voting like Puerto Ricans, or, more precisely, like liberal Jews.

Meyerson nails us; it's all too true.

The contemporary Episcopal Church is nothing like the parish of my childhood. Then, at least in the little corner from which I escaped around age 14, membership in the right Protestant denomination and congregation was a marker of upper class status, something that (white) social climbers adopted on their way up. This had little to do with beliefs or values and everything to do with being seen on Sunday with the "right people." No wonder whatever remnants of that have survived are now embarrassed to be led by a Presiding Bishop with the wrong (female) plumbing, not to mention a church that harbors queers who are visible and accepted.

So some folks are off to graze in improbable African pastures. I can't imagine they'll really be very comfortable there, but that's their lookout. I, for one, won't miss them. I didn't like them in my youth and I sure don't like them now as a mature leftist lesbian and feminist.

Somewhere along the line, the Episcopal majority became a community and polity that affirms, in the words of former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, "there will be no outcasts in the Church." For women and gays, this vision seems more and more true.

The Episcopal Church can't truthfully claim to be as fully welcoming to poor people and people of color as much of it has become to outcasts defined by gender, but many parishes try. Our failures mirror those of our society at large.

The new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori -- the one the departing dissenters so despise -- calls on the Church to continue

"to focus on its mission of reconciling the world, particularly as it cares for the least, the lost, and the left out. We participate in God's mission to heal the world as we feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate children, heal the sick, and seek to change the systems that perpetuate injustice."

I can live in an institution affirming that understanding of mission. It looks like the uptight upright can't.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


What's that?

Mary Sanchez writes in the Kansas City Star:

A 2005 study found more than 60 percent of Americans did not know that Allah simply means God and that the Qur’an is sacred scripture. That’s pretty basic, folks.

The imams’ airline incident [six traveling religious leaders thrown off a flight by US Airways for traveling while Muslim] includes passengers worried that the men were angrily criticizing the United States before boarding the flight. They might have been. Then again, what is often labeled as “anti-American” is often a broader, more informed world viewpoint.

Many Muslims are better attuned to world politics, world faiths, than many U.S.-raised Christians. Sometimes this is due to being an immigrant, or having closer ties to foreign lands. But erasing this global gap is a start in the many disconnects between Muslims and other faiths within the United States.

Islamic scholars argue the United States no longer holds the luxury of remaining ignorant about Islam and its followers. They are right.

Save Hazelton, PA from this illegal invader

  • Santa is not an American nor is he legally recognized for residency or occupational purposes in this country. Oblivious to this fact, millions of Americans delight in inviting him into their homes and allowing him to work unsupervised every year. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to his costume and demeanor.
  • Santa does not work alone, but employs hundreds to thousands of elves in what are clearly described as sweatshop or slave labor-type conditions. This takes jobs away from honest and hard-working Americans who play by the rules.
Appearing unlawfully for too long to remember, Santa Claus has come to represent a range of labor practices that undercut the American workforce in favor of unfair foreign competition or informal domestic laborers. Across America, the economies of small cities like Hazleton have been decimated as a result.

More here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

International Migrants Day

Woodfin hotel workers fired in time for Christmas. Photo from EBASE
Today, December 18, was designated International Migrants Day by the United Nations in 2000. The UN General Assembly approved the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families on December 18, 1990 -- "shamefully" as AFL-CIO President John Sweeney remarked, most world governments, including the U.S., have yet to ratify this agreement to protect the rights of the estimated 195 million people around the world who have left their homelands in search of better lives.

Sweeney points out that "immigration reform" might well fail to protect migrants working in the United States.

"... Corporations continue to call on Congress to create a new large guest worker program, which will provide corporations with a constant stream of exploitable workers and create a secondary class of workers that will drive down workplace standards for all workers.

"As a nation that prides itself on fair treatment and equality, we should accept the standards of rights laid out by the UN Convention on migrants and demand immigration reform that will guarantee that all workers who labor in our nation enjoy full protections of the laws."

Locally, immigrant workers need all the help they can get. Just 10 days before Christmas, the Woodfin Suites hotel in Emeryville, California terminated 21 immigrant workers who have been involved in a campaign to enforce the city's living wage law. Nationally, immigration officials picked up several thousand workers at Swift meat packing plants in raids marked by arbitrary brutality and racism.

It is great to see that Jayashri Srikantiah, the attorney who carried our "no fly list" lawsuit against the government is now the director of Stanford University Law School's Immigrant Rights Clinic. There students learn public interest law by doing actual asylum, domestic violence and deportation cases on behalf of immigrants, according to a recent New American Media report. Students filed a friend of the court brief that helped extend to thousands of immigrants a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a past drug conviction was not automatic grounds for deportation.

Immigration authorities, Srikantiah notes, can reach back into an immigrant's legal past and deport the person based on a single blot. She recalls that an Iraq war veteran married to a U.S. citizen was deported and separated from her family as a result of one drug conviction....

Srikantiah warns that there are many hurdles ahead for immigrants as a result of the use of immigration law to "target, question and detain people based simply on their ethnicity."

The fusing of immigration control and national security, she says, brings in the new factor of secrecy, making unfair regulations and practices harder to challenge. "There's a lot the press and the public can't know because government won't release information based on national security grounds," Srikantiah says.

This sounds like the same claims of secrecy and security we challenged in the no fly list lawsuit. It's great to read that Jayashri is extending the scale of legal efforts to curb arbitrary extensions of government power justified by scaremongering.

Rumors of wars:
A tale of two countries

Photo from Raising Yousuf,

This cogent comparison of U.S. policies toward the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Lebanon was offered by an anonymous commenter at Raising Yousuf, Laila El-Haddad's informative blog from Gaza. It undoubtedly springs from its own biases, but nonetheless is worth thinking about.

  • the US does not deal with the president in Lebanon, and only deals with the president in Palestine;
  • the US says that the [Siniora] government is democratically elected and should be supported, but opposes the democratically elected government in Palestine and calls for its punishment;
  • the US is opposed to unarmed demonstrations in Lebanon but supports armed demonstrations by Dahlan gangs in Palestine;
  • the US calls for disarming of militias in Lebanon, but arms and finances militias in Palestine;
  • the US is opposed to early elections in Lebanon, but supports early elections in Palestine;
  • the US is opposed to a national unity government in Lebanon and also opposes one in Palestine--the idea of national unity bothers the US it seems;
  • the US calls for Syria to not intervene in Lebanon but wants Syria to intervene in Palestine to support US/Israeli puppets;
  • the US wants to punish assassins in Lebanon, but the US supports Israeli and Dahlan assassinations in Palestine, and the assassins there receive US financial and military support.
(Mohammed Dahlan is a Gazan Palestinian legislator long involved with armed Palestinian factions and a member of a younger generation of Palestinian leadership not coming out of Hamas, the Islamist faction that won the last elections.)

Even the New York Times seems to admit that by pushing Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to call early elections of dubious legality to oust Hamas, the U.S. is playing with unknown fires.

Polls show that support for Hamas has been slipping because of the economic crisis facing the Palestinians, worsened by the cutoff of Western direct aid to the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority, and the security chaos in Gaza and large parts of the West Bank.

But Hamas could win new elections and also defeat Mr. Abbas for the presidency, which could put an end for some time to the idea of a two-state solution, with an independent Palestine next to Israel. Hamas recognizes Israel as a fact, but does not accept its right to exist permanently on what it considers Islamic land.

A poll released Sunday placed Mr. Haniya and Mr. Abbas in a dead heat in a presidential race and suggested that Fatah is six percentage points ahead of Hamas, 42 to 36, in a parliamentary election. But the poll, conducted by the independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points, meaning that the two factions could be tied. Mr. Abbas also faces problems because he has done little to reform Fatah or to fire old cronies, who are popularly considered corrupt and out of touch with the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Oh yeah, there are also ordinary living, breathing people involved, as well as grand imperial strategies and men with guns.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chanukah fun

Last night we joined friends, Jewish and non-Jewish, in lighting Chanukah candles. Chanukah is a grand anti-imperial festival, the celebration of the revolt in B.C.E. 165 of ancient Hebrew people, led by the Maccabees, against Syrian overlords. Tradition says that after the successful insurrection only one small jar of sacred oil remained for reconsecrating the temple. This oil miraculously burned for eight nights, hence the eight nights of Chanukah candles.

Potato pancakes, latkes, fried in oil, are a traditional food at Chanukah celebrations, the oilier the better, most think. My feminist friends always insist on singing this song so that we are reminded of the women who stood behind those valiant Maccabees:

Each Chanukah we glorify brave Judah Maccabeus
Who had the courage to defy Antiochus, and free us,
Yet it is not fair that we should forget
Mrs. Maccabeus, whom we owe a debt.
She mixed it, and fixed it
She poured it into a bowl
You may not guess, but it was the latkes
That gave brave Judah a soul.

The Syrians said: "It cannot be that old Mattathias
Whose years are more than 83 will dare to defy us!"
But they didn't know his secret, you see
Mattathias dined on latkes and tea.
One latke, two latkes
And so on into the night
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave him the courage to fight.

Now this is how it came about this gastonomic wonder
That broke the ranks of Syria like flaming bolts of thunder
Mrs. Maccabeus wrote in the dough
Portions of the Torah then fried them so.
They shimmered, they simmered,
Absorbing the olive oil
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that made the Syrians recoil.

Now these little latkes brown and delicious
must have hit the spot 'cause with appetites vicious
All the heroes downed them after their toil
Causing in our Temple a shortage of oil
One latke, two latkes,
And so on into the night.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave us the Chanukah light.

An army moves on its stomach and somebody does the cooking.

Friday, December 15, 2006

What she said...

Ellen Goodman has a novel proposal for finding a way out of Iraq.

Now that the Iraq Study Group has handed in its term paper, now that we have stopped talking about "winning" and are waiting for the president to offer nothing new, may I suggest an exit strategy. Why not hold an election? Why not ask people to vote on whether American troops should stay or go?

I'm not talking about an American election. After all, we already voted against the Iraq War in November. This week, a CBS poll says that 75 percent of us now disapprove of the president's handling of the war.

I'm talking rather about letting the Iraqis vote. I'm talking about an Iraq referendum on whether we should leave within a year....

Ah, but what about the chaos likely to occur when and if we leave? The only question now is whether that chaos comes after a 2007 withdrawal, a 2010 withdrawal or a 2030 withdrawal. Won't we destabilize the Middle East by leaving? Won't we destabilize it by staying?...

Today we have nearly 3,000 American deaths, and by one estimate 650,000 Iraqi deaths. Is it worth it? Are the Iraqis better off without us? Why not just let them answer that question with a purple ink-stained finger?

Iraq news -- through a glass darkly

Apparently the official Bush message of yesterday was, once again, everything is coming along fine in Iraq, but the news media refuse to give you the good news.

Laura Bush blamed the media, when asked why only 21% of Americans, in a recent NBC poll, said they approved of her husband's Iraq policy.

"I do know that there are a lot of good things that are happening [in Iraq] that aren't covered," she said.

Paul Schemm is a former editor of the Cairo Times now based in Baghdad and writing for the Boston Globe. The Arabist has posted his illuminating account of how "the news" of Iraq is assembled from contradictory reports and contentious sources and shaped into the mix that forms our knowledge of events in Iraq. Yes, do think of sausages -- the details can be pretty ugly. Here is a snippet of a much longer piece.

The word of the air strike came around mid-morning. I was actually the one to take the call from our stringer in Samarra. He said 32 people had been killed in an American air strike somewhere to the south according to local government official Amr something-or-other and he was heading towards the site, then the line went dead. ...

Then the press release came. "20 Al-Qaeda terrorists killed" in a midnight airstrike about 80 kilometers north of Baghdad. The wording in these things are key. As US ground forces approached a target site, they were suddenly fired upon, forcing them to return fire – killing two "terrorists". "Coalition Forces continued to be threatened by enemy fire, causing forces to call in close air support." ...

Eighteen more armed terrorists were killed, and a subsequent search revealed that two of them were women. "Al-Qaeda in Iraq has both men and women supporting and facilitating their operations, unfortunately," said the statement.

So it was back to the telephones, talked to the official US military spokesman, "um, how did you know the women were terrorists?" Apparently in the post-air strike "battlefield assessment" done at 1 am in the rubble of the building revealed this fact.

"If there is a weapon with or near to the person or they are holding it, they are a terrorist," he replied. Of course in a normal place, in a normal situation, we would have jumped into a car right after the first phone call and been there an hour or two later and made our own determination about what occurred.

But that wasn't going to happen, and we weren't going to send our Baghdad-based mostly Shiite reporters north into the angry Sunni heartland to a bunch of furious tribesmen who'd just been air-struck.

So we rely on our stringers in the area, who probably can only function in that region because they are sympathetic to the insurgents. It's no fun being a stringer, either the insurgents are going to kill you or the US military will arrest you.

You have to take these allegiances in mind when evaluating their reports. Our stringer finally called, he'd arrived at the site and according to the mayor of the small town (Amr Alwan, as it turned out), who wasn't there at the time, US forces showed up, dragged dozens of peace loving citizens out of their houses, executed them, then put them back into the house and blew it up to cover up their crime so it looked like an air strike.

That version didn't quite pass the plausibility test, either, so we went, roughly, with the US version, putting a lot of things in quotes to convey the skepticism.

I've quoted a lot here, probably more than I should of someone else's work, but this is just the beginning of Schemm's story. They kept trying to find out what really happened. ...The rest of it is just as illuminating and also quite moving. Go read it all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What color is your bracelet?

This blog asks "can it happen here?" For some people in the United States, it happened yesterday. Some arrests have devastating consequences.

U.S. immigration authorities trumpeted news of raids that snatched up several thousand immigrant workers yesterday. A credulous New York Times headlined the story " U.S. Chases Identity Theft in Biggest Work Raid Ever." Yeah, and I've got a great bridge I'd love to sell you in Brooklyn.

In Hyrum, Utah, immigration agents knew exactly who the "lawbreakers" were. As reported by the Salt Lake City Tribune

If only for a few minutes, Maria felt like an ''illegal alien'' in her homeland - the United States of America.

She thought she was going on break from her job at the Swift & Co. meat processing plant here on Tuesday, but instead she and others were forced to stand in a line by U.S. immigration agents. Non-Latinos and people with lighter skin were plucked out of line and given blue bracelets.

The rest, mostly Latinos with brown skin, waited until they were ''cleared'' or arrested by ''la migra,'' the popular name in Spanish for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), employees said.

''I was in the line because of the color of my skin,'' she said, her voice shaking.

In Marshalltown, Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register, many of the dangerous criminals apprehended were parents of small children.

Federal immigration agents arrested scores of workers Tuesday at Swift & Co. packing plants in Marshalltown and five other facilities in the country.

The raids disrupted operations at one of the nation's largest meatpackers and divided families in Marshalltown.

"There are many children who came home and didn't have any parents. How will they get along?" asked Marcelo Merida, a meatcutter at Swift whose wife was among those placed on buses and driven to unknown locations. ....

Workers at Marshalltown described the scene Tuesday morning as chaotic. Later, outside the plant, Alisa Rodriguez-Cardenas showed a bruise she said she received when she was hit on the shoulder by a female agent.

"The woman from ICE was yelling. She was very mad," said Rodriguez-Cardenas, who has worked at the plant since 2002.

"I said, 'Don't yell at us,' and she said, 'Be quiet,' and started to hit us, me and two others."

Jill Cashen of the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UCFW) which represented some of the workers described the raids.

"Stormtroopers came in with machine guns, rounded [the workers] into the cafeterias, separated identified citizens from non-citizens, and then they took away all green cards and put non-citizens onto buses..."

Do we wait til they come for middle class, native-born, white people to protest?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Are you happy? Is the planet?

Here's something fun, a little enlightening, and a little disconcerting. Click here to calculate your personal "Happy Planet Index."

[This website] addresses the relative success or failure of countries in supporting good life for their citizens, whilst respecting the environmental resource limits upon which our lives depend.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an innovative new measure that shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered... [HPI] shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens.

Take this United Kingdom-based survey and think about it. My personal result:

Your personal Happy Planet Index (HPI) is 47.1, which is similar to that of Iran or Ghana.

What's yours?

Monday, December 11, 2006

"Turn back O Man, forswear thy foolish ways"*

Photo from St. John's Episcopal Church

This story isn't getting enough coverage, even though Dan Froomkin mentioned it today.

Apparently President GWB went to church on Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, and got treated to a proper Advent sermon calling for re-evaluation of all easy assumptions about our lives. At the end of a week dominated for Bush by the Iraq Study Group report, Fr. Luis Leon of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington's Lafayette Square preached "a theology of reversal."

"'Repentance is changing your way, changing your mind, changing your direction,' the Rev. Leon said.

"'It requires the will to change,' he said. 'It requires the courage to acknowledge that you want to change, to change your direction.'"

*Heartfelt post-World War I carnage hymn lyric; musical rendition here.


I'm spending a few days at one of these meetings. Can you guess which?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Changing media tune on Beirut protests

Demonstrator holds poster of showing speaker of parliament Nabi Berri of the Amal Party, Christian General Michel Aoun, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah -- together.

After a week of reports demonizing and minimizing the protests, today the BBC seems to be taking a slightly different slant on anti-government demonstrations in Beirut:

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese are taking part in the latest protest to press the government to cede more power to the opposition or step down.

Led by Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies, the rally is possibly the largest demonstration Beirut has seen. ...

Fully-veiled Shia women, Christian students wearing t-shirts and fathers hoisting children on their shoulders were among crowds who cheered a series of opposition speakers urging the government's resignation, the AFP news agency reported.

My Lebanese friends have been furious with BBC reporting. (See their account of Lebanon's crisis of political legitimacy here.)

The snippet above still promotes what my friends contend is the BBC's (and the Americans') central lie: that the anti-government demonstrations are simply "pro-Syrian" manifestations cooked up by the "terrorist" Hezbollah. But it also admits the size and breadth of protests -- and highlights the unity of Christians with Shia and other Lebanese nationalist groups. On Friday, the BBC even admitted that a Sunni cleric "led thousands of Sunni and Shia anti-government protesters in a show of unity during Friday prayers." A broader picture is breaking through Western denial.

More pictures from the demonstrations:

A Shia protester wears the orange scarf of the Aoun movement while waving the Lebanese national flag.

This Vespa promotes enthusiasms that belie the central theme of Western reporting. We may not be able to imagine that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrullah and Christianity can coexist and cooperate, but apparently many Lebanese do think so.

See also this site for more on the Lebanon crisis.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A new citizenship test

Citizenship ceremony in Detroit.

The U.S. government, that is, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is trying out a new set of questions to be asked people who wish to become naturalized citizens. Out of 144 trial questions, the USCIS will eventually settle on 100 and pick 10 to ask each newcomer, requiring six correct answers for a passing score. Obviously aspiring citizens will have to study all of them.

I suspect lots of natural-born citizens could use a refresher course on some of the matters the new questions touch on. Examples follow.

Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence. Interestingly, one of several possible correct answers is the people can change their government if it hurts their natural rights. Isn't that anarchistic?

What does freedom of religion mean? Somehow I don't think James Dobson and Pat Robertson are going to like the proposed answer: You can practice any religion you want, or not practice at all.

Then there's What type of economic system does the U.S. have? The "right" answers are Capitalist economy or Free market or Market economy. How about Economy driven by greed?

Here's one Bush and the NeoCons would stumble over. Why do we have three branches of government? Right answer: So no branch is too powerful.

Then we get to substantive questions that might give lots of us pause. Name one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for. No, flying a kite and understanding the science of lightening won't do. Think back into your history lessons and take a guess.

Or how about name one of the major American Indian tribes in the United States. Probably most of us could do this -- but would the USCIS examiner know if we were right? Fortunately [Adjudicators will be supplied with a complete list.] Really?

Gotta admit I'm thrilled this question somehow got into the mix: What did Susan B. Anthony do? No one would have thought of it when I was young.

Nor could anyone have posed this one: What movement tried to end racial discrimination?

Some of the geography questions will probably be stumpers. Can you answer this one: What is the tallest mountain in the United States? Hint: the right answer is one of two different names.

And I'd hate to take odds on how many citizens could do this one. Name one U.S. territory.

This test is clearly not easy. I asked my partner who teaches college freshmen how she thinks they'd do -- she doubts many could answer all the questions. History is not their strong suit. She had a student recently who assured her that Aristotle went to the movies.

And some people are simply not good test-takers; they get overwhelmed by anxiety and forget material they know. Apparently we are selecting for people who can control their natural anxiety at being interrogated by an official.

Immigrant advocates worry that the new test will be a real barrier for older immigrants whose English skills are already tentative. This does seem likely; we're in a season of increasing hurdles for immigrants. And possibly even more of a barrier to citizenship than the test will be the new fee: aspiring citizens will have to pay even more than the present $400 for the privilege of being questioned by an immigration official.

You can read all the questions here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Episcopal bishop arrested in war protest

The Rt. Rev. Marc H. Andrus, newly installed Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of California, was arrested today outside the San Francisco Federal Building in a "die-in" protesting the U.S. war on Iraq. Prior to joining in blocking doors, Bishop Marc celebrated the Eucharist in the plaza in remembrance of all the dead in Iraq.

About 200 Episcopalians followed the Bishop in procession from Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill down through the Tenderloin to the Federal Building.

The crowd was heavy on Diocesan staff and clergy, as well as members of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

Longstanding regulars of the weekly Thursday vigil against the so-called "war on terror" welcomed the reinforcements.

Markley Morris, the tireless organizer of the peace protest, greeted the procession.

Bishop Marc's sermon held people's attention...

although not perhaps all in quite the same way.

The elements of the mass, the bread and wine, consisted of pita bread on a tin plate and wine offered from metal canteens.

At the conclusion of the mass, those willing to risk arrest took places in front of building doors, singing softly. Federal police declared them an "unlawful assembly" over a bullhorn.

Arrests were slow and gentle. Here the cops take a Quakers participant in the vigil.

Police removed David Hartsough who works on the Declaration of Peace campaign.

Fr. Louie Vitale, O.F.M., was among those taken away.

Police used "handcuffs" that looked almost as if they were made of heavy shoelaces rather than the usual plastic bands.

Not all the protesters appeared to enjoy the class and clerical privilege that characterized most of those arrested.

When the Bishop's turn came, he seemed almost in his element. More than one member of the Episcopal clergy remarked to me: "we're seeing a new day."

The event was surprisingly moving even to this hard-bitten old political cynic. I've been known to be critical of these carefully choreographed "non-violent" protests, even though I've done my share of them. When we the comfortable get ourselves arrested, we don't risk much; the power of nonviolent action is only really revealed when people who have little or nothing choose to demand, through peaceful demonstrative self-assertion, that they have a right to full humanity.

Seeing Bishop Marc get himself arrested wasn't about that; it couldn't be. But it was about seeing him exemplify through action what he thinks the people and clergy of his diocese ought to be about -- and that is quite a call, even here in Left Coast City.