Monday, April 30, 2007

Jamestown 400 years on

In recent days, various news media have exhorted us to attend to the re-enactment of the landing of the first English speaking colonists in North America, 400 years ago, at Jamestown, Virginia. I haven't been able to get properly excited.

Jamestown is part of a trio of historic attractions, along with Colonial Williamsburg and the Yorktown battlefield where the British surrendered to George Washington. I visited them nearly every year as a child. My mother, desperate to get a break from the Buffalo winter, loved to take me on a drive south in spring break. Williamsburg was the main dish, a Rockefeller-funded fantasyland portraying an antiseptic, harmonious colonial past. Yorktown I remember as cold and bleak -- come to think of it, I've never knowingly seen a battlefield that didn't feel bleak. Though Jamestown was the oldest and really "first," it was the undeveloped stepsister of the bigger twosome.

This 400th anniversary celebration is apparently intended to give Jamestown some luster -- and perhaps raise its importance as a tourist destination in relation to upstart Plymouth Rock. After all, those Puritans did not get to Massachusetts for another 13 years.

If we were to think about it, which we are not supposed to, we'd find this anniversary a thoroughly problematic occasion, much as many folks made the Columbus arrival anniversary in 1992. That occasion inspired parallel celebrations of 500 years of indigenous resistance across the hemisphere.

It is a simple fact that two of the "original sins" of the United States made their first appearance at the Jamestown colony:
  • the occupation of native lands and extermination of their inhabitants began there;
  • and it was at Jamestown that the first African chattel slaves were imported in 1619. Wonder if we are going to celebrate that anniversary?
Yet another historic dead end was also pioneered at that landing 400 years ago: the Jamestown colony was set up with an established church. The colony was no missionary outpost -- this was a bunch of adventurers set out to make their fortunes. Nonetheless

the London Company’s Nov. 20, 1606 “Articles, Instructions, and Orders” did, indeed, demand that the prospective American colony “provide that the true word, and service of God and Christian faith be preached.” But the charter added that the “true word” must be “according to the doctrine, rights, and religion now professed and established within our realme of England.” In other words, Jamestown was to be a bastion of the Anglican Church, the established faith of England. The local government was to enforce religious conformity, not religious freedom.

According to Leo Pfeffer’s Church, State and Freedom, the leaders of the Virginia settlement wasted no time in carrying out that edict. Governor Thomas Dale in 1612 mandated “Lawes Divine, Moral and Martial” that decreed the death penalty for those who “speak impiously of the Trinity…or against the known articles of the Christian faith.”

Those who cursed would have a bodkin “thrust through the tongue,” and all immigrants to the new land were to report to the Anglican minister for “examination in the faith.” Those who refused facing a daily whipping “until he makes acknowledgement.” Joseph L. Conn

The kind of fortune seekers who shipped out to the colony didn't put up for long with that autocratic governor. But the assumption that the state should dictate religious belief and practice was still a live issue in Virginia at the time of the U.S. revolution. The Virginian Founding Fathers, led by James Madison, knew exactly what they were trying to stamp out by putting separation of church and state in the Constitution.

The Jamestown re-enactment brought out Pat Robertson and the dominionists who want us to know that this was founded as "Christian nation." Well maybe, but the original Anglican divines would have considered Robertson and Co. as bounders and heretics. Frederick Carlson dissects their agenda here.

Unhappily, the Episcopal Church got involved in the offical (not Robertson) Jamestown anniversary. That tidbit of Anglican history better fits the ethos of the old Episcopal Church of my childhood in which proper upper class WASPs got married and buried and otherwise devoted themselves to getting rich and running the country. Nowadays we have a women bishops and a queer bishop, and who knows how many other faithful oddities in our midst, although considerably less of the ruling class. I'm sorry that Episcopal News Service seemed to think this was our kind of pageant and that the Presiding Bishop lent her presence to the celebration. A church that has just gotten through commemorating Anglican William Wilberforce's leadership of the movement to abolish the slave trade might have thought a little more before throwing itself into the Jamestown commemoration.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Casualties of our wants and needs

During the 2004 election, I worked down the hall from the good folks at Sage Council who were trying to defeat a bond measure to ram a road through the Petroglyph National Monument next to Albuquerque. We lost -- residents of sprawling tract developments had to cut their commute times, no matter what damage followed from intrusion on ancient native holy sites. Here are a few of my pictures of those endangered petroglyphs.

Currently a German archeologist is trying to record, since he cannot save, a truly amazing historical trove of petroglyphs etched on the sides of mountains high in the Indus River Valley near Pakistan's border with China.

Here, in an oppressively narrow and steep canyon, construction of a gigantic dam is planned -- as high as a skyscraper and kept in place by its sheer weight. The future power plant's turbines are to yield 4,400 megawatts of electricity -- the capacity of four nuclear power plants. Behind the retaining wall, a reservoir will flood 32 villages and force as many as 40,000 people to undergo evacuation in the name of progress.

But the reservoir will also bury beneath itself the witnesses of entire civilizations and ancient cultures along the Indus -- mainly stony messages and images from Buddhist times, whose loss is fully comparable to that of the famous Buddhas of Bamyan, which were demolished with explosives by the Taliban in March 2001.

Der Spiegel

The region's stone carvings can't stand in the way of this poor country's need for energy, but thousands are being recorded by Harald Hauptmann. Photos by Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften.

A leopard hunts a large horned mountain goat: The Scythians of Central Asia were masters at etching animal petroglyphs.

The depiction of a mighty horned goat originates from the 6th century BC. Persian stone carving artists left the image behind on a cliff.

Sitting Buddha dating from sometime after 500 CE and the Muslim invasion of the area.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Six weird things about me

Order of Santa Ignora said: "if you haven’t done this, TAG!" Because I've been running a fever for the last few days and have low energy, I consider myself tagged to write six weird things about myself.

I have slightly webbed toes. (Pictured above -- the pimple thingy is where I was bitten by something in Nicaragua.) In grade school, kids asked me why I didn't have them fixed? FIXED? I was appalled. What's wrong with webbed toes? Thus began a life of being different!

I only wear white or black wool socks -- and the lovely ones my partner knits for me!

I'm addicted to instant coffee. I don't understand the appeal of the expensive, slow stuff -- and I don't want to get as buzzed as I would if I drank real coffee. I want to be able to slurp all day.

I have a phobia about viewing movies on screens in theaters. I don't like being loomed over by big scary humans. When I was a kid, my bored housewife mother hauled me to the Hitchcock thrillers she loved -- I've never recovered.

I love American football. I'm the viewer all the networks love who'll watch pretty much any game anywhere: East Podunk U. v. Nowhere State is fine, though I did draw the line last year at following the California state high school championships. Oddly, I've only been to one big time game in person: an Army v. Navy game in the early 60s when Kennedy was president. He crossed the field to watch from the other rooting section at half time. Even handed for a Navy man. Roger Staubach led Navy to a resounding victory. Though we went on my Navy uncle's tickets, I was for Army. Oh well.

I'm addicted to Snood. My highest score ever is 35956. Don't let yourself get started -- you've been warned.

So who do I tag? Since so many bloggers I read have done this, I'll just repeat the broad invitation: "if you haven’t done this, TAG!" Though sfmike you might enjoy this.

Friday, April 27, 2007

This is simply amazing...

Angolan woman carries firewood through a marked mine field.

And now for a complete change of subject. Donald Steinberg formerly served as US Ambassador to Angola, NSC Senior Director for African Affairs, and Special Representative of the President for Global Humanitarian De-mining. That is, he is a big time U.S. Africa policy wonk. He now is head of the New York office of the International Crisis Group.

Steinberg wants the world to know why the 1994 cease fire he helped negotiate in Angola between the government and a rebel movement Washington had once supported did not work out.

Addressing an audience of African scholars on the Lusaka Protocol in late 1994, I was asked about the role of women in its negotiating and implementation. I responded that there was not a single provision in the agreement that discriminated against women. "The agreement is gender-neutral," I proclaimed, somewhat proudly.

President Clinton then named me as US ambassador to Angola and a member of the Luanda-based Joint Commission charged with implementing the peace accords. It took me only a few weeks after my arrival in Luanda to realize that a peace agreement that is "gender-neutral" is, by definition, discriminatory against women and thus far less likely to be successful.

He lists ways that excluding women led to failure:
  • "Most telling was the failure to insist that women participate in the Joint Commission itself. As a result, at each meeting of this body, forty men sat around the table. ... Not only did this silence women's voices on the hard issues of war and peace, but it also meant that issues such as internal displacement, sexual violence, abuses by government and rebel security forces, and the rebuilding of social services such as maternal health care and girls' education were given short shrift - or no shrift at all."
  • The peace failed to take in to account that much of the violence of the war had been sexual abuse, especially rape. It sought to normalize society through amnesties. "Given the prominence of sexual abuse and exploitation during the conflict, including rape used as a weapon of war, these amnesties meant that men with guns forgave other men with guns for crimes committed against women."
  • Women whose lives had been as much disrupted by the war as any soldier's were simply ignored. They weren't "combatants" under the agreement. "The thousands of women who had been kidnapped or coerced, mostly into the rebel forces, were largely excluded by their leaders, since most of them were exploited as cooks, messengers, bearers, and even sex slaves."
  • "Even such well-intentioned efforts as clearing major roads of landmines to allow the more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes backfired against women. Angola was plagued by up to a million landmines planted by a dozen separate military forces throughout its conflict. But road clearance de-mining efforts preceded the de-mining of local fields, wells, and forests. So as newly resettled women went out to plant the fields, fetch water, and collect fire wood, they faced a new rash of landmine accidents."
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Democratic candidates on closing Guantanamo

In this photo reviewed by US military officials, an American flag waves within the razor wire-lined compound of Camp Delta prison, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba June 27, 2006. REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool
This morning news media reported that

The Justice Department has asked a U.S. appeals court to impose tighter restrictions on the hundreds of lawyers who represent detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the request has become a central issue in a new legal battle over the administration's detention policies.

... the government would limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client at Guantánamo; there is now no limit. It would permit only a single visit with a detainee to have him authorize a lawyer to handle his case. And it would permit a team of intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in a detainee's case to read mail sent to him by his lawyer.

Guess they're afraid of a creeping reach of the rule of law (and public exposure.)

Should they be? Just for the heck of it, I made the rounds our potential Democratic presidents by way their web sites and Google to see if we can count on a Democratic president to close our extra-territorial gulag. With some notable exceptions, the results were not encouraging. I'll report in order of their current standing in the polls (excepting Kucinich and Gravel who just don't really register.)
  • Hillary Clinton: recently, apparently in answer to a question, she opined

    she would take steps to change detainee practices at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    "It is such a symbol of all of those unfortunate decisions that were made by the current administration," she said. "Until I'm president, I'm not going to know what's going on."

    No firm promise of closure there. I would describe that as hedging her bets. Whatever she does, she can't risk being seen as soft.
  • Barack Obama: The closest thing I could find to a statement on Guantanamo was a speech opposing the Military Commissions Act (torture enabling/habeus corpus suppressing) passed last fall. It contains much posturing to assure the world that he's tough on terrorists and its primary complaint seems to be with the partisan process that led to the bill. I don't come away reassured that he'd close Guantanamo. I read it and don't know what he'd do. Does he?
  • John Edwards: he has said repeatedly that there is something very wrong with Guantanamo.

    From the abuse of investigative authority under the Patriot Act to the unconstitutional imprisonment of the Guantanamo Bay detainees and illegal torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Force Base, this president has consistently shown contempt for the rule of law.

    March 13, 2007

    We are not the country of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

    February 2, 2007

    He doesn't go so far as to say he'd close the place-- he should be asked!
Update: April 27: So over at DailyKos there was a diary, ostensibly from Edwards, asking support to work against the war. So I did ask. Edwards supporters quickly pointed me this blog report in which he does say he'll close Guantanamo.

When the crisis comes, the world has to rally around us. But for that to happen, the world must see as a good place, with trustful leadership. When I'm the president, one of the first things I'll do is to close Gitmo.

Not perhaps as binding as if it were reported in mainstream media, but not necessarily any less reliable either.
  • Bill Richardson: Outside the first tier, we begin to get concrete statements. As part of his "New Realist" vision of U.S. foreign policy, Richardson says

    We need to present the Arab and Muslim worlds with a better vision than the apocalyptic fantasy of the Jihadists. A vision of peace, prosperity, tolerance, and respect for human dignity.

    For this to be credible, we need to live up to our own ideals. Prisoner abuse, torture, secret prisons, renditions, and evasion of the Geneva conventions must have no place in our policy.

    If we want Muslims to open to us, we should start by closing Guantanamo.

  • Joe Biden: He went on record favoring closing Guantanamo in 2005.

    A leading Senate Democrat said yesterday that the United States needs to move toward shutting down the military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    "This has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world. And it is unnecessary to be in that position."

    Another realist position here that seems quite believable.
  • Chris Dodd: Dodd has joined Senators Feingold, Leahy and Menendez in an effort to repeal the Military Commision (torture) bill. He clearly feels the legal issues involved are central to national self-respect. His father was a prosecutor at Nuremberg. None of this quite adds up to a commitment to close Guantanamo.
Compiling this survey has been interesting. Many of these candidates are not helping curious citizens who want to know their positions much: only Edwards and Richardson have good search facilities on their websites.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Realism from Howard Zinn

The historian of U.S. society, author of A People's History of the United States, offers these thoughts in the May issue of the Progessive Magazine. (Text not online.)

When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.

We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress....

We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth.

That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do.

With Congress passing a toothless supplemental funding bill for the Iraq war with some "suggested" goals, the peace movement has some yelling to do. That's realism for a peace movement. Our protest is our best way to implant spines in Congresscritters among whom they are lacking -- and to encourage the considerable number of Congress types who know perfectly well the war is "lost," but fear pointing out the empire has no clothes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A local poll

I was polled last night on local issues. Apparently the restaurant owners' association is trying to figure out what they could put on the November ballot that would get them out of paying the local minimum wage. (No -- the interviewer didn't say he was from the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, but no one else has much interest in the arcane matters of restaurant economics that he was asking about.)

Pretty much nothing would attract me to a proposition to cut back the minimum wage ordinance, so I was a somewhat difficult interview for the young man conducting the poll. I repeatedly told him that I didn't think the data he was giving me in the arguments in support of a minimum wage rollback were true.

I was right; the claims weren't true. The interviewer repeated over and over that the San Francisco minimum wage is $19.14 an hour. As the graphic above shows, the city minimum wage is $9.14 an hour. The graphic is pulled from the official notice that must be posted in all workplaces.

I assumed whoever commissioned the poll had added some amount to its wage calculation to cover the costs of city-mandated health coverage but that will add only $1.60 per hour on top of wages. A local requirement that employers offer an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked will also add some, as yet unknown, costs. Still, claiming more than a doubling of the true minimum seems like a con to me.

The poll asked if I thought San Francisco was a tourist attraction because of its many restaurants (maybe), if I thought restaurant prices had gone up in the last few years (sure, but not more than inflation generally), if I understood that half of all new restaurants fail in their first year (yes), if I thought that restaurants would have to lay off workers if they had to pay tipped and untipped workers the same minimum (only if they could do without those employees), and how would I feel about limiting the minimum wage to untipped workers (not good, sounds like an invitation to abuse.)

Checking on these matters this morning, I learned that U.C. Berkeley's Institute of Industrial Relations released a study on the effects of San Francisco's local minimum wage in 2006. It found:

  • The new policy did not affect employment growth in affected businesses -- primarily restaurants, where the fulltime employment increased and job tenure improved.
  • Average prices for restaurant menu items increased slightly --approximately 3 cents on the dollar -- relative to their business counterparts on the east side of San Francisco Bay.
  • The policy did not spur business closures.
Those restaurant owners are going to have lot of convincing to do here.

The fellow doing the interviewing for this poll surprised me by his inability to read the script he was working from. I don't think this guy is going to last. He came across as young and a fluent speaker of standard English -- that is, a poor white guy. But he was apparently unfamiliar with such words as "inflation" -- and even more remarkably, on a throwaway Democratic Presidential primary question, he had apparently never heard of and didn't know how to pronounce "Biden," "Kucinich" and "Obama." This last is a reminder to blog obsessed political junkies that we may think the 2008 campaign is in full swing, but there are lots of ur fellow citizens who haven't given it a thought.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Whose brainfart was this wall?
And did AP check its brain at the door?

The AP reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered a halt to the building of a wall around part of Baghdad. It concludes:

He did not elaborate but added "this wall reminds us of other walls," in an apparent reference to the wall that divided the German city of Berlin during the Cold War.

Yeah, and the moon is made of green cheese. Now where's the wall everyone is talking about in Iraq's neighborhood? Oh yeah, the Israeli apartheid wall.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Two Americas" in San Mateo County

Wanda Nalls (left), executive director of the Daly City Community Services Center, chats with Madelyn Martin, director of Community Prevention & Early Intervention for the San Mateo County Human Services Agency.

At a recent community forum in South San Francisco, workers for the big food service contractor Guckenheimer which runs cafeterias for companies like Genentech testified about low pay, backbreaking hours and arbitrary working conditions. They are demanding a protective code of conduct from their employer.

According to the 2000 census, San Mateo County is second richest county in the state -- and the 14th richest county in the country! Located between San Francisco and San Jose, it is home to the bedroom "country" estates of wealthy escapees from the nearby urban areas, such as the towns of Atherton, Hillsborough, Portola Valley, and Woodside.

In 2003, again according to the Census Bureau, median household income was $64,998. Sounds great -- but the aggregate figures conceal extraordinary disparities between the two ends of the affluence spectrum. Put simply, less and less San Mateo residents actually live anywhere near the median. As Madelyn Martin of the county Human Services Agency explained:

...the middle class is disappearing. Those in the "haves" and "have nots" categories have been increasing.

...Out of 72,570 new jobs created in 2006, 87 percent paid less than $27,997.

The federal poverty level for a family of 3 is $16,600. In 2006, it required $66,442 for a single mother and two children to be self-sufficient in San Mateo County.

The statistically inclined will notice that what it costs to live decently here, according to the county itself, is more than the median income! A quick look inside the job statistics tells why most of the new ones pay less than $28,000. A little over 9000 of those jobs were for nurses or managers; all the rest were in such categories as retail sales, cashiers, wait-staff, food service, office clerks or security guards.

Wanda Nalls of Daly City gave this data a human dimension. Daly City is the quintessential post-World War II suburb, tract housing thrown up to meet demand from young families, originally sold with 30-year mortgages for prices of less than $10,000. The sprawling hillsides of cookie cutter houses built by Henry Doelger inspired Malvina Reynolds' classic song, "Little Boxes on the Hillside." They came with a palm tree in the yard, one bathroom, and at most 3 bedrooms.

Ms. Nalls told the forum:

It took a fire for us to understand what was going on in our city. Seventeen people, three families, were living in a single burned out house. People are now living one family to a bedroom in these houses.

Do we just accept that we are moving rapidly toward a society based on this kind of life for most -- or do we do something about it?

No endorsement of John Edwards implied here, but his campaign slogan certainly is apt.

Earth Day orgy

Our rose bushes are infested with aphids. Our aphids are the green variety. They find the buds tasty.

So we got some ladybugs to eat the aphids. The critters had other ideas about what they could do first.

But, afterwards, they got about the business of eating their prey.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Big Brother is swinging on the light pole

Well, they are up, those SFPD surveillance cameras that many of my neighbors attended a hearing to oppose. I don't expect them to reduce crime. More likely, they'll just drive the drug deals around the corner onto my street. And pan the crowds when political groups assemble in this familiar intersection.

Today "All Things Considered" ran a short report on what police across the country are doing with the enormous volume of images they are collecting of all of us. Apparently the average U.S. resident is captured on video fifteen times a day! For the time being, the cops are having some trouble using it: there is simply too much for anyone to sort through.

But don't worry, police security experts will soon find a way to process the images. They are being combined into three regional video labs which amount to a national visual surveillance database. Police hope new software can sort the images so they will be able to search on variables like "female bank robbers" or "individuals wearing a blue baseball cap." Feel safer?

For one New York-based response to these things, check out the Surveillance Camera Players who do theatre for the cameras. Interestingly, they visited San Francisco awhile back and found us inadequately distressed: "San Francisco doesn't have a police department that is as brutal, feared or distrusted as the New York Police Department (NYPD)." Any San Francisco veteran of the White Night riots, the Castro Street sweep, or the Union Square demo where the SFPD clubbed grandmother Dolores Huerta so badly she lost her spleen might question that one.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Other peoples' elections

Okay, here's a quiz for readers with at least rudimentary French reading skills (like mine.) Find out which candidate you'd probably support in next Sunday's first round of the French Presidential election. This is the "free for all" vote: twelve candidates representing left to right and various curlicues in between. The top two get to run off on May 6. Traditionally, people vote in the first round to express what policies they really want. Then, in the second round, they knuckle under and pick the less bad choice.

Perhaps as testament to my ignorance of French politics, this woman was my choice based on a battery of twenty-five questions.

She's the Green.

In real life, the two run-off contenders will probably come from among Segolene Royal (loosely socialist left), Francois Bayrou (characterized as "center") and Nicolas Sarkozy (the former hard line interior minister from the right.) But then again, last time the rabid racist Jean Marie Le Pen snuck into the second round and even the left had to vote for the rightist Chirac. More about all these candidates, in English, here or here.

H/t to nosemonkey for pointing me to the quiz.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bill Richardson's Presidential test: immigration

God is a distant old white guy with a beard; the U.S. President is white guy in a suit. The archetype of a U.S. President is still a white man.

So folks who want to be President who don't fit the archetype have to pass a test: can they adopt unthreatening positions on the subjects which define their difference from the archetype, all the while trying not to alienate the considerable part of their support that comes from people who want them to be different?

Case in point: Hillary Clinton acts as if she had to cozy up to the Iraq war; she believes she has to go out of her way to convince us that a woman would kill as many towel-heads as would a candidate with male plumbing.

In the netroots and among those who attended the recent MoveOn Iraq forums, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is climbing rapidly toward the first tier of Presidential hopefuls. His "start withdrawing now" and "no residual forces" positions on Iraq clearly moved him up a notch. But part of Richardson's claim to consideration is that he is the nation's first viable Latino candidate -- so his test of his presidential fitness becomes: how he would deal with immigration issues, especially with Mexican immigrants?

There is no question that Richardson has said some sensible things about migration policy.

I'm vehemently against this wall, which is idiotic. It makes no sense. ...

Q: Do you support the touch-back notion, where undocumented immigrants would have to return to their country to be eligible to return to the U.S.?

A: Terrible idea. It's going to split up families. Let's just have an orderly process. (With) the touch-back (plan), you're going to split up families. Why do that? It's sort of a typical Congressional compromise that's not going to work.

The Arizona Republic
April 14, 2007

Or, in a more analytical vein:

Think for a moment about the quality of life for an undocumented worker. No protection from unscrupulous employers. No job benefits. No health care, no pension, no Social Security, no workers compensation, no Medicare or disability insurance.

Yet -- despite what some people would have you think -- almost all of these workers pay taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes. Because in order to find work they must either use someone else's Social Security number or make one up. Since they will never collect benefits, these illegal workers are subsidizing our Social Security and Medicare trust funds with their payroll taxes.

And those who are not paying into Social Security and Medicare are working under the table, and are at even greater risk of being exploited. No minimum wage, no safety standards, no over-time, no protection against sexual harassment or even sexual abuse. Many workers change jobs every few months because their employer finds out that their Social Security number is invalid or belongs to someone else.

Most undocumented immigrants come to the United States to work low-wage jobs which few Americans want, such as picking crops or cleaning toilets. Our economy creates demand for at least 400,000 new low-skill illegal immigrants per year, but only about 140,000 are allowed to enter legally. When demand and legal supply are so out of line, the pressures for illegal immigration are enormous.

Speech at Georgetown University,
December 7, 2006

Richardson obviously understands immigration realities, something we can't be quite so sure most of the others do.

But then we get to his prescriptions for improvement: short form -- he supports the Kennedy-McCain bill offered last year. Or, in the Georgetown speech just cited:

I am calling on the Democratic Congress to act swiftly to work with the President and solve this problem. And it can be solved by taking four realistic steps -- securing the border, increasing legal immigration, preventing employers from hiring illegal workers, and providing a path to legalization for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Let's go into that a little.
  • Securing the border. Despite his clear exposition of the economic causes of migration, he very emphatically endorses the frame that "illegal" border crossing are a "security threat." He even panders to the xenophobic fantasies of U.S. rightwingers by raising the specter of Al Qaeda in reference to the border. He wants to "immediately put enough National Guard troops at the border to keep it covered until we can secure it with Border Patrol officers." And he wants to give this pseudo-army "the best surveillance equipment available to our military." As Governor of New Mexico, he did place the National Guard on the border.
  • Increasing legal immigration. Richardson knows that increasing and streamlining legal immigration would help reduce the flow of undocumented workers. And he's for it. "If the US economy needs these workers, it is in our national interest to let more of them come legally, by increasing combined legal quotas for temporary and permanent taxpaying immigrants to 400,000 workers per year. To keep families together, we also should double the number of family member visas, from 480,000 to 960,000." But in addition to more legal immigration, he also endorses the complicated "guest worker" program in Kennedy-McCain that would provide U.S. employers with a compliant workforce with few rights since terminating their employment would mean their expulsion. Great -- in a guest worker program the U.S. government serves as the labor contractor for big, tightwad corporations. That's quite a triumph of privatization.
  • Preventing employers from hiring illegal workers. In order to do this, he essentially endorses creation of "a national system to reliably and instantaneously verify the legal status of every job applicant and worker." Though he talks about privacy protections and anti-discrimination curbs, it is hard to imagine that this system would not evolve into a national ID card. Do we choose to adopt such a system because we are afraid of immigrants?
  • Providing a path to legalization. Richardson knows he can't just make these people felons as the Republican congress tried to last year.

    The number of illegal immigrants is five times the number of inmates in all American prisons combined. Our economy could not stand the shock of losing all these workers, and our national conscience would not countenance arresting millions of men, women and children. We did this to Japanese Americans in 1942, and we rightfully regret that abandonment of basic American decency.

    He is not a proponent of criminalization. But he sure throws the xenophobes a lot of bones as he describes his picture of a "path to legalization." Undocumented persons seeking to regularize their status should pay back taxes (though they got no benefits), "pay a fine for breaking the law," and show a clean record. Then he is willing to put out the welcome mat, though in the Arizona Republic interview, he speaks of "a path to legalization, not citizenship." The interviewer didn't follow up by asking what that status might mean.
As Richardson's campaign progresses, he can expect to be hammered, at best, by insinuations, at worst by outright accusations, that he wants to give the country away to those Mexicans. He's a scrappy guy who has faced this kind of garbage his whole career, so he is probably ready for it. He's staked out an immigration position with a little something for everyone -- it is not clear whether this will help his campaign.

What do I think he'd do about immigration in office? Hard to tell when a guy covers all bases. The experience of Bill Clinton in office makes me distrustful: Clinton certainly understood the realities of poor women on welfare better than most of our politicians. Nonetheless, he was willing to enact the radical right's punitive "welfare reform" to get the issue out of the way. I fear Richardson would be similarly eager simply to get rid of the issue, willing to sign off on anything a Democratic Congress sent him, at whatever cost to the immigrant workers.

Update -- 5/24/2007: Richardson has stuck to his principles, becoming the first Democratic contender to oppose the so-called immigration "compromise." According to the New York Times, "
after reading it in detail, he had decided to oppose it, saying the measure placed too great a burden on immigrants — tearing apart families that wanted to settle in the United States, creating a permanent tier of second-class immigrant workers and financing a border fence that Mr. Richardson had long opposed."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Of Iraqi refugees and Israeli cluster bombs

Refugees shopping in an almost all-Iraqi area of downtown Amman, Jordan. Photo: Jon Elmer 2005.

Last summer when we had just returned from visiting Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, I wrote a lot about two topics that had become more immediate to me from having been in the region. Today, a couple of timely updates:
  • A major United Nations meeting in Geneva today is taking up the situation of the 4 million Iraqis displaced in the wake of the U.S. attack on and occupation of their country. Emma Batha on an Alertnet blog reports that

    We're now seeing a "migration crisis of epic proportions", according to the International Rescue Committee, a relief agency which works with refugees.

    Around half those who have left their homes are living in Syria and Jordan, which are struggling with the burden - the issue is particularly sensitive in Jordan where Iraqis now make up a fifth of the population. (You can't help wondering how a European country might act in a similar situation.)

    ... For many years Afghanistan has been the world's biggest source of refugees, but experts believe it could very soon be overtaken by Iraq.

    Read the comments on this blog entry to get a sense of how the refugee Iraqis are destabilizing life in Syria, much as we heard last summer.
  • Meanwhile, international pressure is building on Israel to pay for cleanup of cluster bombs it fired into southern Lebanon in the last days of last summer's war.

    Belgium's Defense Minister said last week that he would act to extract payment from Israel for the removal of cluster bomb fragments that the Israel Defense Forces fired into Lebanese territory during the Second Lebanon War.

    During a meeting with representatives of Medical Aid for the Third World (MATW), an international medical organization, Defense Minister Andre Flahaut said the weapon was "the resort of cowards and a violation of international law."

    ... The MATW did not address the issue of how the funds would be collected from Israel.

    "We left that up to the Belgian government, as the removal is performed at its expense by the Belgian contingent to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon," [Dr. Bert] De Belder [of MATW] said.

    Haaretz, April 16, 2007

Seems like a reasonable request, but the world will see if anything comes of it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Target practice in the Bronx

If Steve Gilliard were healthy, I'm sure he'd share this. Since he can't for the moment, I will.

What with its new-found taste for overseas assignments, you would think the German Army might have developed a finely tuned sense of cultural awareness by now. But it still seems in need of sensitivity training.

First there was the scandal over German soldiers posing with skulls in Afghanistan. Now the army is in trouble again over a video showing a recruit being encouraged to imagine he is shooting African-Americans in the Bronx.

German Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said Monday that the army was investigating the incident. "This behavior is absolutely unacceptable and contradicts the training standards of the German army," Raabe said at a press conference, where he emphasized that the incident was an "isolated case." The army had begun a probe into the incident which would probably be completed within two to four weeks, he said.

The video in question shows an army recruit being trained in machine gun use by an army instructor. First the recruit is encouraged to imagine he is shooting terrorists in an airport. The soldier lets off a couple of rounds, apparently to the instructor's satisfaction. The second visualization exercise involves a more urban scenario. "You are in the Bronx," the instructor says. "A black van stops in front of you. Three African-Americans get out and insult your mother in the coarsest possible way." The recruit is told to fire and shout the English expletive "motherfucker" with each round, which he does after first laughing at the absurdity of the instructions given him. The instructor tells him to shout louder, and the recruit obeys.

Der Spiegel
April 17, 207

Somehow I don't think those guys quite get it. You can view the video at the link.

For the record, this Tax Day

What we are paying for:

What our current wars are costing:

Thanks to the War Resisters League.

Meanwhile in Iraq those subjected to what our taxes have paid for ponder:

It looks I will never finish writing about the achievements of our great government. Excuse me dear readers but I think I have the right to feel proud that we have such great government supported by the great administration of Great Bush. Well, let me go directly to the point. I just would like to tell you that this is the 7th day that we don’t have water in our neighborhood. ...

I don’t know what to say but I just want to know what the word government means. Does it only mean to have hundreds of guards and to steal money or it means to travel here and there claiming that you work hard for your people or it means to send the young men to die in an aimless war?

Inside Iraq
A blog by the McClatchy news bureau staff
April 14, 2007

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A matter of pride

Hint to union organizers hunting for the workers who'll fight to the end against the bosses: look for the people who seem proudest of their work!

Last week I attended a couple of labor-sponsored events where this was obvious.

Luz Dominguez is a housekeeper for the Woodfin Suites Hotel in Emeryville, California. She cleans guest bathrooms and changes beds every working day. In 2005, she was honored as Woodfin's worker of the year. But when employees insisted on being paid under the terms of the city's Living Wage Ordinance, passed by the voters in 2005, suddenly Dominguez was expendable. Nobody questioned her immigration status until she started demanding her rights under the law.

"We deserve to work with dignity, pride and rights! For this, we'll keep working to the end, God willing -- we must work to lift our children up," Dominuguez told a rally last week.

In the fall, she told writer and photographer David Bacon: "A Social Security number can't wash toilets or vacuum floors or make beds. Only human beings can do that. Legal documents are very important, but real, physical work is what counts."

Woodfin has now gone to court to try to get the Living Wage law declared unconstitutional. So far, the workers remain on the job under an injunction issued in January that gave the city time to investigate whether the workers had suffered illegal retaliation.

This gentleman, whose name I couldn't catch at a community forum because he spoke in Chinese and the translator didn't spell it, works for Guckenheimer, the giant food service contractor. Guckenheimer supplies the cafeteria labor at Silicon Valley companies like Genentech, Electronic Arts, Gilead, EFI, SRI, and Roche. This worker has been with the company for 5 and half years. He thought he had a great job as a driver, until one day, with no warning or explanation, they made him a dishwasher. He was afraid to question, because he needed the job -- but the arbitrary move made him angry.

"It was like I don't matter, like I was invisible."

After being treated that way, he became a labor activist with the Service Workers Rising campaign of the union UNITE-HERE. The workers are seeking a code of conduct that respects them as people and family members who are committed to doing their jobs. If you listen to them at all, it is clear that respect and knowing they will not suffer from arbitrary actions by supervisors matter to them as much as the higher wages they need to get by.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

New gadget

Thanks to Dave Walker at We Blog Cartoons for this image.

I initiated a relationship with a new computer today. The video card in the old one has finally succumbed to a bad experience with a glass of water in 2004 and too frequently renders the screen as vertical green and pink lines. I once had wallpaper that looked like that -- it was a little hallucinatory.

The new computer is up, mostly running, and really the transition wasn't tough at all. But I suspect I will be a little confused for a day or so.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Strange encounter

Not 20 minutes drive from my house, there's a little mountain whose trails I run when I'm getting myself in shape. Amazingly, since from its slopes you can see all of San Francisco, the Peninsula and on clear days the East Bay cities, hardly anyone enjoys its trails. I can run a 5-mile loop over the summit and see perhaps 2 other people on an average circuit.

Last week I lumbered along up there on a gorgeous early afternoon. Just before leaving the asphalt trail not far from a parking lot I noticed two plastic bags on the grass with a few grocery items -- a half-gallon of orange juice, a box of cereal -- lying off to the side. Odd. But I've heard there might be a hermit somewhere up in the thickets -- maybe someone had dropped supplies there and meant to pick them up later?

So up I went up and over the top and soon was running back through the same area. There was a person lying across the trail, stretched out on some cardboard, almost blocking the way. The feet were bare, pink, and didn't look damaged. A coat covered the person's head and upper body. The groceries were still lying beside the path.

I jumped around the body and ran on. Ever since I was about twenty-two, I've lived in neighborhoods where it is not uncommon to see people passed out on the sidewalks. And I've learned not to get involved: unless there is blood, evident distress, or the person is lying somewhere dangerous, I let them alone. I assume they are drunk, or crazy, or simply enjoying a chance to sleep in the sun.

I had run nearly a quarter of mile before I realized that I had left a person lying across a path on the side of an exposed mountain where no one was likely to come along for hours, if that day. I was stunned enough to turn around and trot back.

Happily, the body had moved and proved to be a man who was now lying on his stomach reading a pamphlet. His shoes were set neatly next to him. I recognized that this was a guy who had been feeding birds in a nearby picnic area when I went up the hill.

So I turned around and left him to his reading, figuring that an ambulatory person could be left to his own choices.
No moral here. Besides recognizing that my behavior confirmed Robert Cialdini's theory of social validation, I have no idea what to make of this little episode. I do wish though, that I didn't live in a society where we have to develop strategies to deal with the reality that people lie passed out on the street.

A shout-out for a friend

My friend, right, was a bugler.

A friend died this week. She wouldn't like me to write about her, so I won't. But, twenty years before I did, she attended an obscure "Turkish-themed" summer camp in Vermont that had a "camp yell." We broke out in it occasionally once we discovered we'd both learned it as girls.

Here goes, one more time, for her:
"Hooray, lashamonda-gondalaya-gorapiniah!"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

MoveOn Iraq forum, more

Today MoveOn announced the results of its poll subsequent to the Town Hall on Iraq. From the perspective of an organizer, there's a very interesting discrepancy between the results from all MoveOn voters, including those who only read about the event or viewed some of the YouTube videos and then voted and the results from only the participants in the house meetings.

Here's the all voter breakdown:

Update for Gretchen in comments and others who can't read the small type:
All MoveOn votes cast:
Obama-28, Edwards-25, Kucinich-17, Richardson-12, Clinton-11, Biden-6, Dodd-1

Here are the votes from the smaller segment that actually experienced the poll as an event among their neighbors:

Housemeeting attendees:
Edwards-24, Richardson-21, Obama-19, Kucinich-15, Biden-10, Clinton-7, Dodd-4

Richardson soared among this sub-segment. Edwards and Obama were strong in both, but traded the top spot. Kucinich, Clinton, Biden and Dodd all trailed by somewhat similar margins in each.

Clearly that very careful and concerned subset of people who were willing to go to a public meeting to hear the candidates found something attractive in Richardson when exposed to him in that collective setting. Folks who merely engaged with this poll online probably didn't give Richardson a viewing.

Chris Bowers at MyDD provides data on which YouTube videos were viewed:
Obama: 11,060
Edwards: 10,142
Clinton: 5,142
Richardson: 3,914
Kucinich: 2,839
Biden: 2,195
Dodd: 1,433

Looks like only the top two really got a chance with folks whose exposure was entirely online (making the assumption that Clinton's internet-based support is pretty small and inelastic.)

For organizers, this ought re-teach the lesson that turning people out to events is worth the enormous energy it takes, because the experience does change them.

For the Richardson campaign, it certainly means they've got to somehow get their guy in front of more people!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MoveOn Virtual Town Hall: Iraq

Seven Democratic Presidential hopefuls put out for MoveOn last night, subjecting themselves to questions on Iraq that were projected by webcast to folks in over 1000 house parties all across the country. We heard Edwards, Biden, Kucinich, Richardson, Clinton, Dodd and Obama, in that order. The session is available here.

The organizing of the town hall: The event I attended included 21 people, all white, ages late 20s through 70s, in a San Francisco Mission district flat. People brought great food. Mostly folks didn't talk with each other if they didn't already know each other, even at the intermission. The tidbits I heard suggested that we came with similar political inclinations (very progressive, if not downright left) but widely varied levels of sophistication. Our host projected the screen shots from MoveOn on the wall and had a good sound system, so there were no technical barriers to the feeling of being in a genuine meeting.

Eli Pariser (I guess, missed any introduction) set up the questions that were then played as audio recordings from the MoveOn members who had proposed them. All the candidates were asked "what do you think is the best and fastest way to get the U.S. out of Iraq?" Then each got 2 follow up questions, all different.

During the session, many, perhaps most, attendees took notes. Afterward we mostly just bolted, again with little interaction.

When we checked our emails afterward, we had a communication from MoveOn offering the chance to pick our favorite and say why. The form would not accept my answer -- "No clear cut winner" -- so I didn't get to see later screens. Apparently these offered a chance to contribute to the candidate of our choice; MoveOn probably had to offer that much to get participation.

The substance: There was more content to this exercise than I anticipated, much to my surprise. Most of the candidates did not seem particularly polished in their answers. Some highlights and reactions, none of them probably very significant:
  • Edwards: if I have a leaning in a contest between people none of whom I expect to represent me, it is probably toward Edwards, for his support for low wage workers. I really liked when he said Congress should use the power the purse to "force" Bush to withdraw troops now. If Bush vetoes funding bills with restrictions, he urges Congress to keep sending them up. "It's not about keeping Joe Lieberman happy." That was a nice line.
  • Biden came across as a sensible, articulate, informed and conventional policy wonk. Since very few of his hearers actually know anything about the ins and outs of the Iraq situation, I suspect his responses just flew by. He did seem to think the U.S. was still able to do good and call the shots in Iraq, a false premise as far as I am concerned.
  • Kucinich is a nice man whose stock in trade is that he was right on the war from the get-go. He is not ever going to be President. He has a bill: HR 1234.
  • Richardson was tough about getting out of Iraq fast and leaving "no residual forces." Like Biden, he thinks the U.S. still will be able to influence the outcome when we depart -- these guys apparently can't imagine that might not be true, that we've completely blown the illusion of our omnipotence. He thinks Congress should vote to rescind the war authorization resolution, accept the consequent Constitutional crisis, and thinks Congress would have a 50-50 chance of winning in the Supreme Court. Wow -- that's a gambler's perspective. What if the Supremes decided any limitation on the executive war power was down the drain? He was not so forthright about continued efforts by U.S. oil companies to control Iraqi oil, though he said the right words about the black stuff belonging to the Iraqis. He is campaigning as the qualified candidate with experience. He's got a point there.
  • Clinton got off a good line, saying Pelosi had done right to push diplomacy with Syria. Her stance on withdrawal seemed muddled; didn't hear anything about all U.S. troops ever leaving. She spoke of a "residual force" so I guess she'd like to try to hang on. She was big on blaming the Iraqis for the mess we've made, speaking of "benchmarks" and "pressure." She ducked answering what she'd do if Bush vetoes the supplemental funding with withdrawal timetables now on his desk. Basically, she seemed to be trying to run against Bush, not looking to a time after Bush. And she was definitely running to emphasize her inevitability as the candidate. She was the only one utilizing the old trick of couching her answers in "when I am elected..." Frankly, I was surprised at how very shallowly she has positioned herself. I know I don't trust her, but I expected her to seem more formidable. There doesn't seem to be a there there. I suspect this is not a good year for such a candidate.
  • Dodd was a lot like Biden, except that he introduced "energy independence" which no one else mentioned and some quite good stuff on how the Bushies have trashed whatever moral standing the country ever had in the world. Mentioned his effort to repeal the Military Commissions (torture enabling) bill.
  • Obama surprised me the most of any of them, because the guy seemed to have zero charisma. Isn't that supposed to be his strong suit? He said a lot of right things about getting out of Iraq, but he also bought into a lot of Bushite frames: the danger of Syria and Iran "supporting terrorism," "can't be naïve." In fact, he seemed very busy trying to assure some audience (probably not the MoveOn one) that he is not naïve. He would not commit to what he'd do if Bush vetoes the funding bill with withdrawal timetables. I need to see more of that one before I form an opinion.
Guess I have to give MoveOn credit -- I've certainly never listened to a bunch of candidates this long this early in an election cycle before. It was much more interesting than I expected. There is something about listening in a group, even with little communication between folks, that raises the quality of attention with which we approach the exercise. The atmosphere reminded me of the seriousness people adopt when called to jury duty. I think that is healthy for democracy. Now if we only had more inspiring candidates.... Too much to ask?
One more thought: on Iraq, can any Democrat admit that the U.S. may not get to decide the terms on which it leaves? That seems the right question for the peace movement, as any other frame is imperial fantasy

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ward Connerly is at it again

Not content with spearheading the drive to kill efforts to increase the number of African Americans with access to higher education, when this year's admission numbers to UCLA showed more blacks than previously, the former UC regent insulted those who got in:

"One of three things must be happening," Connerly said Thursday. "Black kids have either gotten extremely smart or extremely competitive in a way they weren't five or six years ago, or there's been a deliberate, carefully orchestrated effort by a lot of admissions people to conspire to increase those numbers, or they've found a proxy for race."

LA Times
April 6, 2007

Right. Black kids can't be smart enough or determined enough to win admission -- somebody must have cheated on the law to get them admitted.

Mr. "Pull Up the Ladder My Republican Sponsors Gave Me After Me" is nothing if not consistent in his contempt for people who might need a little help to level the playing field.

Interestingly, the same article reported a smart and generous response to the demographic shift which slightly reduced Asian American acceptances.

Candice Shikai, a UCLA junior who is a leader of UCLA's Asian Pacific Coalition, noted the drop in Asian Americans in the admitted class, but said she and other Asian American students were happy to see black admissions rise.

"It's really great that the African American admissions increased, but I think we still need to realize that there are communities within the Asian community -- Pacific Islanders and some of the Southeast Asian communities -- that still lack access," Shikai said.

That's keeping the focus where it belongs, on encouraging a California institution to do the hard work of helping all our citizens, especially whatever communities need a leg up, to participate fully in the unprecedented cultural mix we're living.